On Jan. 21, we celebrate the life and lasting legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Two months later, Jews will celebrate Passover. Although it may not be readily apparent, these holidays share an important tie. Both are centered on deliverance from subjugation and prejudice, and the journey of a people toward freedom and self-determination.
There is also a deep connection between King and Moses, the leader of the Jewish people when they were freed from slavery in Egypt. Both extraordinary men left indelible marks on history.
In Deuteronomy, the last book of the Torah, we are taught that Moses gave his final address to the Israelites on Mt. Nebo. This mountain overlooks the Promised Land of Israel, which Moses is never allowed to enter. Comparisons to King’s speech on April 3, 1968, at the Mason Temple Church of God in Memphis are remarkable. Moses led his people from slavery in Egypt, through the desert for 40 years, and to the edge of the Promised Land. Likewise, King led his people from persecution to the edges of another Promised Land, that of a free America for all.
King must have had Moses in mind that night of his last sermon when he said, “God has allowed me to go up on the mountain, and I have seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the Promised Land.”
Tragically, King was prophetic in that he did not personally make it to the Promised Land. He was assassinated the next day. Just as Moses died on the mountain overlooking Israel, so too did King die on his “mountain,” overlooking his Promised Land.
Although America has made great strides in ensuring the acceptance of all citizens as equal, we have not fully descended King’s “mountain” and crossed over into the Promised Land of freedom and friendship. Too often, members of my generation stop at mere acceptance, and fail to pursue a true companionship with people who have different belief systems or different physical attributes.
I am a believer in the philosophy that if Americans, who enjoy the benefits of the greatest personal freedoms on Earth, merely coexist and tolerate each other, we are not moving forward. My generation’s task is for people of all walks of life to work together for absolute equality and justice for every American.
This Martin Luther King Day, I urge you to make an effort to identify the prejudices that haunt your subconscious, and realize that we are not all that different from one another. No individuals deserve to be treated differently because of the color of their skin or the religion that they follow. By doing this simple introspective task, we come closer to fulfilling the joint legacy of Moses and King: freedom and equality for all.