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A Sermon from Rabbi Marantz: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Passover and Rabbi Waskow

Below is the sermon given by Rabbi Craig Marantz this past Shabbat. It is a look at the powerful work of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the passover story, all in light of our nation's political unrest preceded by a year of so much hurt, sadness and uncertainty.

The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Junior was assassinated on April 4, 1968, Memphis, Tennessee - eight days before Passover. One year later, on the anniversary of Reverend King’s death, Rabbi Arthur Waskow held the first Freedom Seder in a black church in Washington DC. Jews joined in, as did civil rights activists. And together they told their slave stories and their liberation stories, drawing near each other in solidarity and empathy.

Fifty years later, Rabbi Waskow tells the ancient Passover story with a contemporary language:

There is a dangerous immigrant community who speak a different language, worship in a different way from us. They swarm in numbers, and may conspire with our enemies, becoming terrorists. Let us smash their families by killing their children!” When a resistance emerges, Pharaoh’s stubbornness, arrogance, and cruelty bring on ecological disasters – undrinkable water, unprecedented locust swarms, and hailstorms unheard of in all the country’s history.

The resistance, initiated by women — midwives, and even Pharaoh’s daughter — grows. It hears a call to march by baking bread in haste so sharp it cannot rise. Its matzah embodies what Reverend King called “the fierce urgency of now.”

Our Torah portion has not quite arrived to the point of matzah, but a look at our key text reveals, Moses is charged with the task of telling old Pharaoh: Let My people go!” And in the next verse, we learn of the first makkah. The first plague is coming.

For review, what are the ten makkot Mitzrayim, the ten plagues of Egypt?

  1. Blood

  2. Frogs

  3. Lice

  4. Flies

  5. Pestilence

  6. Boils

  7. Hail

  8. Locusts

  9. Darkness

  10. Killing of the firstborn

And then, to bring things up to current speed, what are ten modern day plagues? Unfortunately it’s not too difficult to write up this list.

Some shared with Rabbi Marantz during Shabbat services:

Covid-19, Racism, Anti Semitism , Global Warming

Inequitable access to health care, Zealous Partisanship, Myopia & Hard-heartedness, Conspiracy Theories, Police Brutality, Gun Violence, Homophobia, Transphobia, Misogyny, Opioid Addiction, Immigrant families torn apart

Xenophobia, Human Trafficking, Economic injustice

What do we do about all these plagues? Well first we pray as though everything depends on God. Join me in the following thanksgiving prayer, which will give us a clue as to what we’ll do next.

For human community, our common past and future hope, our oneness transcending all separation, our capacity to work for peace and justice in the midst of hostility and oppression...Modim Anachnu Lakh.

For high hopes and noble causes, for faith without fanaticism, for understanding of views not shared...Modim Anachnu Lakh.

For all who have labored and suffered for a fairer world, who have lived so that others might live in dignity and freedom...Modim anachnu Lakh.

For human liberties and sacred rites: for opportunities to change and grow, to affirm and choose...Modim Anachnu Lakh.

We pray that we may live not by our fears but by our hopes, not by our words by by our deeds.

Barukh atah, Adonai, hatov shimkha ul’cha na-eh l’hodot.

Blessed are You, Adonai, Your Name is Goodness, and You are worthy of thanksgiving.

And then we must act as though it all depends on us. Like we're baking matzah in a rush with our newfound freedom just fingertips away. With, as Dr. King summoned, an urgency of now.

An urgency of now for peace over hostility.

An urgency of now for justice over oppression.

An urgency of now for fair-mindedness over fanaticism

An urgency of now for common vision over shared myopia.

An urgency of now for equity, dignity over unfairness and shame.

An urgency of now for the liberty to choose and affirm over

An urgency of now to make sure everyone gets a Covid vaccination as soon as possible. Enough said.

Between Corona chaos and the assault by fellow Americans on our Capitol, our morale may be low. However, the power to act in nonviolent ways, to be a force for good, to make life matter, and to make a difference with an urgency of now, is a legacy left to us by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

May his memory be a blessing.

And if for some reason you don’t believe me, just tune in to the inauguration of our new President on January 20th. And more importantly, pay attention to the swearing in of our new Vice President, who embodies an America that can and does make good on Dr. King's vision. While our work is far from done, it will be comforting and inspiring to celebrate some of our success as a democratic nation built in the image of great moral champions like the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

Shabbat shalom!


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