This week we began reading the second book of the Torah – Sefer Shemot, The Book of Exodus. Sefer Shemot recounts the slavery of Bnai Israel in Mitzrayim (ancient Egypt) and the journey to freedom. In this week’s parshah we read of the courage of the midwives Sifra and Puah who refused to obey Pharoah’s orders to slay all firstborn males. From their courage and fortitude, we learn the middah, “refuse to do bad deeds.”
Next week we will be celebrating A.J. Heschel / Martin Luther King Jr. Tikkun Olam Week at the Toronto Heschel School. We chose this week as it coincides with Martin Luther King Day; often (although not this year) MLK Day also falls in the same week as A.J. Heschel’s Yartzheit.
Like the midwives of the Exodus story, both Heschel and King were exemplary role models of people who reject the wrong and bad deeds they see happening around themselves. Heschel and King had a special relationship founded on their mutual respect for the dignity of human beings and the obligation of religious leaders to stand up against injustice. In March 1965, Heschel joined with King and other religious leaders on a famous march from Selma to Montgomery Alabama to protest the lack of civil democratic rights for African Americans. Heschel declared that on that march he felt as though his “legs were praying.”
Next week at Heschel, our Junior High Tikkun Olam Committee will be teaching us about the unique contributions of Heschel and King to tikkun olam. They have posted inspirational quotes from the two leaders throughout the school and they will be visiting each class to read a story about Heschel and King. Each student will be invited to consider what she or he would “stand up for,” and pray for with their legs.
Today, we still recognize in many parts of the world, and even close to home, Pharoahs of different forms whose hearts are hardened with prejudice and injustice. For Rabbi Heschel, our story of freedom is linked to all those who are oppressed. This Shabbat may we consider how to take our Jewish obligation to help in whatever small or big way we can to defeat Pharaoh and continue the journey to freedom for all people that we began 2000 years ago.