Pesach, 2023 KELLEY KIDD
I recently ran across a Facebook posting that heralded a biography of Rabbi Abraham Heschel. He has been a favorite political and religious leader for me. and he has that stayed with me since I discovered his writings in 1977. So for 44 years i have deeply admired the contributions of a modern Jew, who was extremely devout, very close to Jewish traditions in his worship and teaching. But he helped to establish an organized multi-ethnic and interfaith clerical resistance to America’s role in the Vietnam War, demonstrated for civil rights with Martin Luther King, and introduced MLK for the sermon in which Dr. King spoke powerfully against American military and economic imperialism.
One commentator on the Heschel biography observed that he was responsible for giving Judaism a social conscience. And i immediately reflected that the observation reflected enormous ignorance of the Jewish social conscience. Today i will participate in the annual celebration of a religious observance which is called Pesach or Passover. it is a week of Jewish commemoration of their freedom from Egyptian bondage more than three thousand years ago. If i am not mistaken it is by far the oldest continual celebration of freedom from the political domination of one nation over another. it is also the world’s oldest celebration of any effort to obtain religious and spiritual freedom. And it is also the commemoration of the first effort by a large number of laborers to escape exploitation by a class of overseers. The entire Jewish tradition for all these years has reflected that spirit and that quest. For the birth of the Jewish people starts there.
According to the Jewish story of these events, the newly freed people proceeded a few months later to adopt a constitution which embodied the following legal principles: (1) all people are entitled to regular rest from labor and they are positively urged in the strongest language to insure that the right to rest will be guaranteed and practiced by all, (2) kindness and fairness and even love should be given by each of us to all our friends, aquaintences and even aliens, (3) each person has the right to be free from the violence and robbery of each of the rest of us and from our governing institutions, (4) differences between us and between individuals and the government must be adjudicated by fair and impartial judges who are responsible to all of us. (5) the physical world (i.e, the environment)is holy and belongs to the creator, not to individuals or even the community as a whole, and each of us has the duty to respect nature and the environment. (6) we all have a duty to respect the lives and even the feelings of animals which are dependent on us, and to never be cruel in our treatment of animals.
This covenant or constitution was sometimes violated by individual Jews and by the most influential and powerful individuals and families. But the classical Jewish prophets condemned such behavior. Their people recognized them by making their criticisms and summons to justice into holy scripture.
Throughout the many centuries since Jews have been persecuted and oppressed in virtually every nation and culture. Despite this, and perhaps partly because of it, jews have always been in the forefront of struggles for justice and freedom. May it always be so,