We refer to this Shabbat as Shabbat Shira (Sabbath of the Song), in honor of the freedom song b’nai yisrael sang upon escape from Egypt.
What resonates with us is not necessarily the contents of the song, but its ideals. We relate to the Shira because of our personal histories. We and/or our parents and forebears know what it is like to flee from oppression. When we hear the Shira during the Torah reading, we acknowledge and celebrate those personal histories and our respective flights from slavery to freedom. We think about both our past traumas and our present triumphs. We remember the agonies of having to leave our native countries because Jews were not welcomed. In the process, we honor the America which embraced us and opened its gates to our grateful families. We also think about immigrants and would-be immigrants from other nations and faiths, who long for the same opportunities so decisively granted to us.
The Shira also calls attention to generations of Americans, who have suffered oppression and slavery in the very nation which welcomed us as immigrant Jews.
Abolishing that ignominious form of slavery was a central objective of Dr. Martin Luther King, whose birthday we celebrate on Monday. Dr. King lead the fight against a blatant and disturbing inconsistency: How could the America, which boldly embraced new immigrants so ignore millions of African Americans here at home?
Dr. King envisioned a time when we would sing a different Shira: A song to celebrate the flight of minorities across a symbolic Sea, which divided America the reality from America the ideal.
During his brief lifetime, Dr. King only partially succeeded in his quest; yet back in the early and mid-1960’s would anyone imagine an African American President of the United States? Would we have imagined an America, whose universities welcomed everyone and whose political leaders were elected by virtue of their message and not by virtue of their skin?
There is certainly more work ahead before we, as a nation can sing a new Shira totally reflective of our unity, tolerance and dignity. There is more work ahead to address the ignorance which still produces bias crimes and unspeakable tragedies. The Shira led by Moses and Miriam was a moment in time; the ideals of freedom would not be realized for several decades. Yet, that Shira expressed hope that the future will lead Israel not only to its own land but to fulfill the ideas so beautifully expressed in their Song.
My hope is that we dedicate our Shira this Shabbat to the objectives of Dr. King. I ask that we strengthen our efforts for universal partnership; in a quest for the America, which truly and consistently embraces our foundational ideals of freedom
Such a Shira is worth singing and celebrating indeed…