“‘Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each of you is to return to your family property and to your own clan.’” — Leviticus 25:10
When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other African-American leaders began their heroic march for civil rights and fight for justice, the Jewish community stood side-by-side on the frontlines of faith. As we honor Dr. King’s legacy this month, let Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein’s reflections on justice inspire and encourage you.
For more on the historic and spiritual bonds between the African-American and Jewish community, download our complimentary booklet here.
In a 1935 radio address, President Franklin Roosevelt said, “We cannot read the history of our rise and development as a nation, without reckoning with the place the Bible has occupied in shaping the advances of the Republic . . . . where we have been truest and most consistent in obeying its precepts, we have attained the greatest measure of contentment and prosperity.” Indeed, the Bible and the Judeo-Christian ethic shaped and molded America into the mighty nation it came to be.
This influence is especially evident in the opening line of the nation’s Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among them are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
These sentiments are captured on the Liberty Bell at Independence Hall with a quote directly from this week’s Torah portion: “Proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” That liberty and equality are the rights of every human being are ideals that stem from the Bible and are the bedrock of America.
Let’s take a look at the context of this ideal. This portion of the Bible deals with the occasion known as the Jubilee Year. In biblical times, every 50th year was to be a year of celebration. Slaves were to be set free. Property was to be restored to its original owner. People were to return to their ancestral territory. Loans were to be forgiven. Everyone was to return to their original state of freedom and equality. The Jubilee Year was the great equalizer. No matter how society might have been shaped over the 50 years preceding the Year of Jubilee, it was to return to its original state in the 50th year.
What’s the message for today?
On Saturday night, as the Sabbath ends, Jews perform a ritual to end the Sabbath called havdallah. By candlelight, we recite blessings over spices, fire, and wine. When we make the blessing over the fire, we turn our palms toward us and curl our fingers inward. Why? When our fingers are held straight out, they all stand at different heights. But when they are curled inward, they are all the same length. We remember this message and take it into our week – that we are all equal in the eyes of God. We are all worthy, wondrous children of the Most High God.
As we go through this week, let us remember to treat everyone with honor and dignity. We are all equals. No one is below us and no one is above us – other than God. Let us serve each other as one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Download your complimentary copy of our booklet, On the Frontlines of Faith, which explores the historic and spiritual bond between the African-American and Jewish communities during the Civil Rights Movement.