Just over 50 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. and gave one of the most remembered speeches of all time. In this public address, Dr. King reminded every American of the "momentous decree...a great beacon of light of hope to millions...." President Abraham Lincoln (just 100 years prior) signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This was to ensure that millions of slaves would be given their freedom - a GREAT day in American history. However, the point Dr. King was making was that 100 years after President Lincoln signed his decree, there still existed racism, hatred and segregation. The point of Dr. King's march on Washington was to renew this hope - to remind Americans of our responsibility to each other - every one of us.
"In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our Republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir."
In this part of his speech - the key word is EVERY. Every American has the right to freedom, to be able to pursue happiness. Today, this speech reminds us that although we have made many positive strides, we still have a long way to go to fulfill the promise our nation's founders gave.
Dr. King continues:
"I say to you today, my friends, though, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'"
Although Dr. King was speaking to a specific group of people - African Americans - I believe his message is one that crosses many cultural boundaries and lines. There are many political statements I could make about different "groups" in America. However, this blog post is not meant to lean one way or another. The message is to be clear for all of us - we have made many strides...but our country has a long way to go before the creed Dr. King quotes is attained.
Let me make my point in another way:
This week's Parashat HaShavuah - the weekly Torah Portion - is Parashat MiKeitz, from the book of Genesis. In this week's portion, the Pharaoh has 2 dreams that Joseph interprets to mean there will be 7 years of harvest and 7 years of famine. The Egyptian people are to collect as much harvest as they are able so that when the 7 years of famine strike, they will have enough food in storage to survive.
I believe this part of the Parasha sends a very similar as Dr. King's speech. The Egyptian people kept food in storage so that ALL people will be able to be sustained...not just any one particular sect of the people. Dr. King's message is one that speaks to all Americans. Each and every one of us should be seen and treated as equals - with regards to freedom, democracy, rights, etc. And, of course, this includes our ability to put food and water on our tables and maintain a healthy life for ourselves and our children. However - this is NOT the case.
Sometimes, Carlie - my 7 year old - will tell me she is starving. I always remind her that she is just hungry. I explain to her that she will never know starvation. I teach her that there are millions upon millions of people in the world that are starving. And, these people are not just in lands thousands of miles away! No! There are many, many, many people in our own communities that are starving. It is indeed our responsibility as human beings to help. Each of us has the right to living a dignified life in which we can feed our families without worrying where the next meal will come from.
This brings me to my last point. I have been a supporter and traveler with the American Jewish World Service (www.ajws.org) for many years now. I have also been a supporter of the One and Red Campaign (www.one.org). Through my educational experiences and on the ground experiences with AJWS, I have learned some very staggering numbers. According to the following website:
"A minority of the world's population (17%) consume most of the world's resources (80%), leaving almost 5 billion people to live on the remaining 20%. As a result, billions of people are living without the very basic necessities of life - food, water, housing and sanitation."
Something is wrong with this. This is not the dream I have....the dream I have is simple - All people on Earth will have enough food and water to live normal lives devoid of poverty. My friends, as a world, we produce more than enough food for everyone...the disparity is in who controls the resources. A simple example will make my point. When the earthquake hit Haiti in 2010, there was an outpouring of support from all over the Earth. What did the United States do first? Well, officially we sent pounds upon pounds of rice to Haiti so the Haitian population could eat. At first, we thought this was great. You know what? It was NOT a great thing though. You see, the #1 cash crop of Haitian farmers is rice. Just when the Haitian farmers were trying to get back on their feet, we (the United States) were sending FREE rice...basically putting the Haitian farmers out of work.
See this site: http://www.nbcnews.com/id/35608836/#.UpYdFtIqhY4
The point is this - it is GREAT to help others. We should all do more of this. However, what we need to do first is speak to those we are trying to help. Find out what they need. Find out how they can help themselves..."If you give a man a fish, he can eat for a day. If you teach a man to fish, he can eat for a lifetime." Let us find ways to educate ourselves and other cultures...we can learn from them just as they can learn from us.
After all, it took a Hebrew slave to teach the Egyptian Pharaoh how to save his people...maybe we can all learn something from this simple Biblical tale!