The Way Moses and Rev. King Faced Pharaoh

The Way Moses and Rev. King Faced Pharaoh
by Rabbi David Zaslow

Adapted from an essay in Reimagining Exodus: A Freedom Story

Listen to any of Rev. Martin Luther King’s speeches and you hear the voice of Moses and echoes of the Exodus. His prophetic sermon, often referred to as the Mountaintop Speech, was delivered on April 3, 1968 at the Bishop Charles Mason Temple in Memphis just hours before his assassination the next day:

I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will, and he’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve 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.

Rev. King, like Moses before him, knew that the oppressed could never be free from the effects of racism until the oppressor was also free from being racist. Moses worked for the redemption of Egypt from its oppressiveness just as King worked for the redemption of White America from its racism. On many occasions King let his listeners know that he was also praying for White American, that they too needed to be liberated.

This same principle is taught by the Dalai Lama and other visionary Tibetans – that the Tibetan people can never be free from the oppression of the Chinese until the Chinese themselves are free from being oppressors. Visionary Israelis and Palestinians also understand this principle in regard to Middle East peace – that Israel will never be free from acts of terror, and that Palestinians will never achieve statehood, until groups like Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Hezbollah are liberated from the hatred that cause them to commit these acts of terror. Israel and the Jewish people must uphold this vision of the prophets and loudly proclaim it’s interdependence with the children of Ishmael, our cousins. When we are angry and think only in binary terms this principle of interdependence is difficult to comprehend. In the mid-1950’s Rev. King taught:

Let us remember that as we struggle against Egypt, we must have love, compassion and understanding goodwill for those against whom we struggle, helping them to realize that as we seek to defeat the evils of Egypt we are not seeking to defeat them but to help them, as well as ourselves.

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