This week’s Torah Reading tells the story of the final plagues in Egypt, including the plague of darkness. But this was no ordinary darkness, we read;
ויהי חשך־אפלה בכל־ארץ מצרים שלשת ימים
And there was a thick darkness in all the land of Egypt for three days (Exodus 10:22)
לא ראו איש את אחיו ולא קמו איש מתחתיו שלשת ימים
People could not see one another and no person could move from their place for three days (Exodus 10:23)
These verses have always conjured up images of the darkroom at camp. In the days before digital cameras we used film which needed to be developed using chemicals in complete darkness. The first time I entered the darkroom and the lights went out I experienced the totality of darkness. Suddenly I realized that surrounding me in the darkness are dangerous chemicals. I froze in my place and could not move.
The narrative conjured up a different image for the Rebbe Yitzhak Meir of Ger, also known as the Chidushei HaRrim. He imagined a spiritual and ethical darkness. A darkness in which לא ראו איש את אחיו people could not see one another, a spiritual and ethical darkness that leaves us oblivious to the needs and plights of others. When that happens a person becomes paralyzed in their spiritual and ethical development and לא קמו איש מתחתיו no person could move from their place.
The Chidushei HaRrim sees the world at its darkest when we fail to empathize with each other, when we are trapped inside ourselves. When we lose the ability to learn and grow as human beings.
This week we remember the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King a champion of civil rights. This week we remember a man who gave his life teaching us that we can not live in darkness to the plight of others, with indifference to their inequality. This week we remember a man who helped force our nation to leave our place, to leave our comfort zone, to rise up and become a nation that is true to the words of our Torah (Leviticus 25:10) as inscribed on the Liberty Bell “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the Inhabitants thereof”.
As we remember this great man, one might ask “How did Martin Luther King want to be remembered?” He told us: He told us in a sermon delivered Feb. 4, 1968, at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, two months before he was assassinated.
“If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. And every now and then I wonder what I want them to say..….
I'd like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others.
I'd like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.
I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question.
I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry.
And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked.
I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison.
I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.
Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won't have any money to leave behind. I won't have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. And that's all I want to say.”
Tonight as we remember Dr. Martin Luther King, we remember a man who brought us from darkness to light. We remember a man who sensitized a nation to the plight of others. We remember a man who has helped us strive for the ideal of liberty and Justice for all.
תהא נשמתו צרור בצרור החיים
May his soul be bound in the bond of life eternal.