MLK Day: Sources for a Conversation

Section #1

"There are those who are asking the devotees of Civil Rights, 'When will you be satisfied?'...No!, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until 'justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream'."

--Martin Luther King, "I Have a Dream" (1963)

(טו) שִׂנְאוּ־רָע֙ וְאֶ֣הֱבוּ ט֔וֹב וְהַצִּ֥יגוּ בַשַּׁ֖עַר מִשְׁפָּ֑ט אוּלַ֗י יֶֽחֱנַ֛ן ה' אֱלֹקי־צְבָא֖וֹת שְׁאֵרִ֥ית יוֹסֵֽף׃ ...(כא) שָׂנֵ֥אתִי מָאַ֖סְתִּי חַגֵּיכֶ֑ם וְלֹ֥א אָרִ֖יחַ בְּעַצְּרֹֽתֵיכֶֽם׃ (כב) כִּ֣י אִם־תַּעֲלוּ־לִ֥י עֹל֛וֹת וּמִנְחֹתֵיכֶ֖ם לֹ֣א אֶרְצֶ֑ה וְשֶׁ֥לֶם מְרִיאֵיכֶ֖ם לֹ֥א אַבִּֽיט׃ (כג) הָסֵ֥ר מֵעָלַ֖י הֲמ֣וֹן שִׁרֶ֑יךָ וְזִמְרַ֥ת נְבָלֶ֖יךָ לֹ֥א אֶשְׁמָֽע׃ (כד) וְיִגַּ֥ל כַּמַּ֖יִם מִשְׁפָּ֑ט וּצְדָקָ֖ה כְּנַ֥חַל אֵיתָֽן׃

(15) Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate; Perhaps God, the LORD of Hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph... (21) I hate and detest your festivals, I will not delight over [the sacrifices] of your assemblies. (22) If you offer up burnt offerings—or your meal offerings— I will not accept them; I will not notice your gift offerings of fatlings. (23) Spare Me the sound of your hymns from My presence, and let Me not hear the music of your harps. (24) But let justice well up like water, Righteousness like an unfailing stream.

Section #2

(ז) וַיִּיצֶר֩ ה' אֱלֹקִ֜ים אֶת־הָֽאָדָ֗ם עָפָר֙ מִן־הָ֣אֲדָמָ֔ה וַיִּפַּ֥ח בְּאַפָּ֖יו נִשְׁמַ֣ת חַיִּ֑ים וַֽיְהִ֥י הָֽאָדָ֖ם לְנֶ֥פֶשׁ חַיָּֽה׃
(7) the LORD God formed man from the dust of the earth. He blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.

התחיל לקבץ עפרו מד' פנות העולם אדום שחור לבן ירקרק. אדום זה הדם שחור אלו הקרבים ירקרק זה הגוף. ולמה מד' פנות העולם שאם יבא מן המזרח למערב ויגיע קצן להפטר מן העולם שלא תאמר הארץ אין עפר גופך משלי חזור למקום שנבראת אלא כל מקום שאדם הולך משם הוא גופו ולשם הוא חוזר:

God gathered the dust [of the first human] from the four corners of the world - red, black, white and green. Red is the blood, black is the innards and green for the body. Why from the four corners of the earth? So that if one comes from the east to the west and arrives at the end of his life as he neared departing from the world, it will not be said to him, "This land is not the dust of your body, it's of mine. Go back to where you were created." Rather, every place that a person walks, from there he was created and from there he will return."

Section #3

(ו) שֹׁפֵךְ֙ דַּ֣ם הָֽאָדָ֔ם בָּֽאָדָ֖ם דָּמ֣וֹ יִשָּׁפֵ֑ךְ כִּ֚י בְּצֶ֣לֶם אֱלֹקִ֔ים עָשָׂ֖ה אֶת־הָאָדָֽם׃
(6) Whoever sheds the blood of man, By man shall his blood be shed; For in His image Did God make man.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, A Letter in the Scroll, p. 72

In terms of ethics, Judaism was the first religion to insist upon the dignity of the person and the sanctity of human life. For the first time, the individual could no longer be sacrificed for the group. Murder became not just a crime against man but a sin against God: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for in the image of God has God made man.” Already prefigured here is the phrase in the American Declaration of Independence that speaks of all human beings as “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” We cannot give up what is not ours. The sanctity of life is written into the structure of the universe by the terms of creation. It is a non-negotiable standard by which all human conduct is to be judged.

Section #4

(לג) וְכִֽי־יָג֧וּר אִתְּךָ֛ גֵּ֖ר בְּאַרְצְכֶ֑ם לֹ֥א תוֹנ֖וּ אֹתֽוֹ׃ (לד) כְּאֶזְרָ֣ח מִכֶּם֩ יִהְיֶ֨ה לָכֶ֜ם הַגֵּ֣ר ׀ הַגָּ֣ר אִתְּכֶ֗ם וְאָהַבְתָּ֥ לוֹ֙ כָּמ֔וֹךָ כִּֽי־גֵרִ֥ים הֱיִיתֶ֖ם בְּאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרָ֑יִם אֲנִ֖י ה' אֱלֹקֵיכֶֽם׃
(33) When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. (34) The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I the LORD am your God.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, The Dignity of Difference, p. 58

Nowhere is the singularity of biblical ethics more evident than in its treatment of the issue that has proved to be the most difficult in the history of human interaction, namely the problem of the stranger, the one who is not like us. Most societies at most times have been suspicious of, and aggressive toward, strangers. That is understandable, even natural. Strangers are nonkin. They come from beyond the tribe. They stand outside the network of reciprocity that creates and sustains communities. That is what makes the Mosaic books unusual in the history of moral thought. As the rabbis noted, the Hebrew Bible in one verse commands, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself ”, but in no fewer than 36 places commands us to “love the stranger”.

Section #5

כׇּל מִי שֶׁאֶפְשָׁר לִמְחוֹת לְאַנְשֵׁי בֵיתוֹ וְלֹא מִיחָה — נִתְפָּס עַל אַנְשֵׁי בֵיתוֹ. בְּאַנְשֵׁי עִירוֹ — נִתְפָּס עַל אַנְשֵׁי עִירוֹ. בְּכָל הָעוֹלָם כּוּלּוֹ — נִתְפָּס עַל כָּל הָעוֹלָם כּוּלּוֹ.

Anyone who had the capability to effectively protest the sinful conduct of the members of his household and did not protest, he himself is apprehended for the sins of the members of his household and punished. If he is in a position to protest the sinful conduct of the people of his town, and he fails to do so, he is apprehended for the sins of the people of his town. If he is in a position to protest the sinful conduct of the whole world, and he fails to do so, he is apprehended for the sins of the whole world.

Abraham Joshua Heschel, Telegram to President John F. Kennedy, June 16, 1963

I look forward to privilege of being present at meeting tomorrow. Likelihood exists that Negro problem will be like the weather. Everybody talks about it but nobody does anything about it. Please demand of religious leaders personal involvement not just solemn declaration. We forfeit the right to worship God as long as we continue to humiliate Negroes. Church synagogue have failed. They must repent. Ask of religious leaders to call for national repentance and personal sacrifice. Let religious leaders donate one month's salary toward fund for Negro housing and education. I propose that you Mr. President declare state of moral emergency. A Marshall plan for aid to Negroes is becoming a necessity. The hour calls for moral grandeur and spiritual audacity.