How many of you used to check out books from the bookmobile? Many of you may not even know what a bookmobile is! I don’t know if bookmobiles still exist, but I distinctly remember checking out books from the bookmobile that used to drive by my neighborhood growing up. I don’t remember all of the books that I checked out from the bookmobile, but I do remember one book distinctly – it was a biography of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I can still see the cover of the book in my mind’s eye, and I can still remember the profound impact that book had on me as a young Canadian Jew. I do believe that learning about Dr. King, along with my parents, my synagogue, my rabbi, and my Jewish day school education, had an impact on my views towards social justice, freedom and equality.

This week at The Toronto Heschel School we celebrated both Dr. King’s birthday and our school’s namesake, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, by commemorating Pluralism and Diversity Week. Part of this week’s commemoration focused on the close, personal relationship that Dr. King shared with Rabbi Heschel. Please see your child/ren’s grade level newsletter to learn more about the specifics of what your child/ren did to commemorate this week and how they learned about pluralism and diversity.

It struck me how this week’s Middat HaShavuah, taken from Parshat Vaera, is closely tied to this week’s commemorations. The Middah was:

Key Verse: וַיִּכְבַּד לֵב פַּרְעֹה, וְלֹא שִׁלַּח אֶת-הָעָם 

שמות ט:ז

Middah: Don’t harden your heart

We learn in this week’s Parsha that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, not just once, but time and time again! Dr. King and Rabbi Heschel and the leaders of the civil rights movement had to deal with people whose hearts had been hardened through hatred and bigotry for centuries. These people resisted change, and they couldn’t see the value of a free society, where equality and justice were the underpinnings of a changed and enlightened world. Dr. King called it a “heart full of grace,” which is the opposite of a hardened heart. In one of his famous quotes, Dr. King said: “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” 

This Shabbat, let us reflect on this teaching from our Torah portion and by the work of Dr. King and Rabbi Heschel. Let us not have hardened hearts like Pharaoh or the bigots who lived in the time of Dr. King and Rabbi Heschel, or who still live among us today. Let us have hearts that are giving, kind, open, inclusive, compassionate, and loving. Let us have hearts full of grace, so that we can continue the work of Dr. King and Rabbi Heschel, to repair our broken world, and to make our world a better place for one and all!

Shabbat Shalom U’Mevorach,

Moreh Alan