This weekend, we observed the forty-eighth anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. ‘s “I have a dream” speech, perhaps the most famous sermon ever delivered. While the devastation and damage caused by Hurricane Irene delayed the pomp and circumstance of the dedication of the new MLK memorial in Washington DC, the memorial in itself is a reminder of the sacred words of that sermon:
“We refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.”
“We are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until ‘justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.’”
We find in this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Shoftim, the command: “tzedek, tzedek, tirdof,” Justice, Justice, you shall pursue (Deut. 16:20). How appropriate that we read these words as we memorialize the words of Dr. King. The Hebrew is in the command form, in future tense, as a reminder that this commandment is never fully completed. We never finish pursuing justice, for full justice and equality still does not exist in our midst.
I recently saw the movie, The Help, based on the book by Kathryn Stockett. This was an incredible tale of historical fiction and I have no doubt that it will be a strong contender in the Oscar race. It was a reminder of how far we have come and how we have evolved as a society, but also a sign of how far we still have to go.
As long as there are laws in this country that aim at identifying, prosecuting, and deporting illegal immigrants through racial profiling, then we continue to pursue justice.
As long as women in this country make on average on 76% of what men make for the same job, while doing the same work, then we continue to pursue justice.
As long as an average of 17 million households, close to 15% of the country, are food insecure in this country, then we continue to pursue justice.
As long as racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-semitism, discrimination, bullying, and hate still exists in this world, then we continue to pursue justice.
May we all continue to pursue justice, not just for our own sake, but for the sake of all those in this country — and in this world — whose voices are silenced. Like Dr. King, I too refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. It is our job to let our voices be heard, to stand up for what is right, even if no one else is willing to do so.
Justice, Justice we shall pursue. Surely then, we will live to see Amos’ prophecy be fulfilled.
– Rabbi Jesse Olitzky