In our Torah portion this week, we continue telling the narrative of the exodus from Egypt, including the first of the seven plagues. In honor of Martin Luther King Day this upcoming Monday, I would like to shift our focus from the plagues themselves, towards Pharaoh's reaction.
After the tenth and final plague, one would have thought that Pharaoh would be devastated, over the significant loss of life, including his son, but that doesn't appear to necessarily be the case. In Exodus 12:30 we are told that there was not a house, where there was not at least one dead. And what did Pharaoh do? "
VaYakam Pharaoh" that "Pharaoh got up." Rashi tells us this means that Pharaoh simply got out of his bed. Pharaoh's greatest sin, according to Rashi, wasn't inflicting pain and suffering on the Israelites, or forcing them into servitude. It was the indifference he showed towards the suffering of his own people, and his fellow Egyptians.
In 1965, during a speech at Dinkier Plaza Hotel in Atlanta, Georgia, Dr. King said with regards to persecution and segregation: "History will have to record the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the vitriolic words and other violent actions of the bad people but the appalling silence and indifference of the good people."
Along similar lines, close friend of Dr. King, and fellow civil rights activist, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel spoke about the power of "praying with our feet." Prayers and thoughts can only take us so far. When we see injustice, we see others suffering in our world, we have an obligation to act. Frederick Douglass once said "Praying for freedom never did me any good until I started praying with my feet."
It is not 1965 anymore, but we live in a world where there is still injustice and senseless hate. It is my hope and prayer for all of us this Shabbat and this coming week, as we honor the legacy of Dr. King, that we learn a lesson from Pharaoh's tragic flaw. May we be inspired by the words of Rabbi Heschel and Dr. King. When we see injustice and hate in the world around us, we may be inspired to pray with our feet, and act out against it. That way, we can all work towards creating a more open, peaceful, and just society for all.