It is a happy coincidence of the Hebrew and secular calendars that this week’s Torah portion, Bo, (Ex. 10:1-13:16), falls in the same week as the commemoration of Martin Luther King’s birthday. The Torah portion addresses the last three plagues of Egypt, and the exodus itself. Within the first few verses of the portion, Moses and Aaron, speaking on behalf of God, utter the famous words, “let my people go”. These words continued to resound throughout history. Most notably, they were used by the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and mentioned by Dr. King in his 1964 acceptance speech of the Nobel Peace Prize:
Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself. The Bible tells the thrilling story of how Moses stood in Pharaoh's court centuries ago and cried, "Let my people go." This is a kind of opening chapter in a continuing story. The present struggle in the United States is a later chapter in the same unfolding story. Something within has reminded the Negro of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously or unconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers in Asia, South America, and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice.
Nor is that struggle at an end, no matter how far we have come. The Haggadah for the American Family, written by Rabbi Martin Berkowitz in that same time frame of the 1960s, looks prophetically towards the future in this reading:
The struggle for freedom is a continuous struggle, for never does man reach total liberty and opportunity.
In every age, some new freedom is won and established, adding to the advancement of human happiness and security.
Yet, each age uncovers a formerly unrecognized servitude, requiring new liberation to set man’s soul free.
In every age, the concept of freedom grows broader, widening the horizons for finer and nobler living.1
As we face this coming week, may each of us feel the need to continue the struggle for freedom, wherever in our world it may be needed.
1And a tip of the kippah to Alice Meerson for bringing the Haggadah reading to my attention.