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I Have a Dream, Too

I Have a Dream, Too

Just over 50 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., stood in front of the Lincoln Memorial and gave one of the most remembered speeches of all time. In his address, Dr. King reminded every American of the "momentous decree...a great beacon of light of hope to millions...." that just 100 years prior, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation to ensure freedom to millions of slaves. Dr. King reminded us that 100 years later, there still existed racism, hatred, and segregation – and that the point of the March on Washington was to renew this hope and remind Americans of our responsibility to each other:

When the architects of our Republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.

In this part of his speech, the key word is “every.” Every American has the right to freedom and the pursuit of happiness. Today, this speech reminds us that although we have made many positive strides, we still have a long way to go to fulfill the promise our nation's founders gave. Dr. King continues:

[E]ven though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’

The message is clear: We have made many strides, but our country has a long way to go before the creed Dr. King quotes is attained.

In Parashat Mikeitz, which we read in November, Pharaoh has two dreams that Joseph interprets to mean there will be seven years of harvest and seven years of famine. The Egyptian people are to collect as much harvest as they are able so that when the seven years of famine strike, they will have enough food in storage to survive. I believe this part of the parashah sends a similar message to Dr. King's speech. The Egyptian people kept food in storage so that all people would be able to be sustained, not just those of any one particular sect. Dr. King's message is one that speaks to all Americans, that each and every one of us should be seen and treated as equals with regards to freedom, democracy, rights, etc. – and, of course, this includes our ability to put food and water on our tables and maintain a healthy life for ourselves and our children.

However, in America today, this is not the case.

Sometimes, my 7-year-old daughter tells me she is “starving.” I always remind her she is just hungry. I explain that she will never know starvation. I teach her that millions of people in the world are starving – and not just in lands thousands of miles away! No, there are many people in our own communities that are starving, and it is our responsibility to help. Each of us has the right to living a dignified life in which we can feed our families without worrying where the next meal will come from.

For many years now, I have been a supporter of and traveler with American Jewish World Service. Through my educational experiences and on-the-ground experiences with AJWS, I have learned of some staggering numbers. WorldCentric.org reports,

A minority of the world's population (17%) consume most of the world's resources (80%), leaving almost 5 billion people to live on the remaining 20%. As a result, billions of people are living without the very basic necessities of life – food, water, housing and sanitation

Something is wrong with this. This is not the dream I have. The dream I have is simple: that all people will have enough food and water to live lives devoid of poverty.

As a world, we produce more than enough food for everyone; the disparity is in who controls the resources. When an earthquake hit Haiti in 2010, there was an outpouring of support from all over the Earth. What did the United States do first? We sent pounds upon pounds of rice to Haiti so the Haitian population could eat. What was wrong with this? You see, rice is the number-one cash crop of Haitian farmers. Just when these they were trying to get back on their feet, the United States sent free rice – basically putting these farmers out of work.

It’s great to help others. We should all do more of it! But first, we should speak to those we are trying to help. Find out what they need. Find out how they can help themselves. An old saying goes, “If you give a man a fish, he can eat for a day. If you teach a man to fish, he can eat for a lifetime." Let us find ways to educate ourselves and other cultures. We can learn from them just as they can learn from us.

It took a Hebrew slave to teach the Egyptian Pharaoh how to save his people. Maybe we can all learn something from this simple Biblical tale!

Rabbi Erin Boxt serves Temple Kol Emeth in Marietta, GA. He blogs at Rabbi Boxt’s Rabbinic Journey.

Rabbi Erin Boxt

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