Rabbi Arthur Waskow for Jewish Reconstructionist Communities
"Blessed is the One Who is the Breath of Life"
Shabbat shalom! . . . It's the custom of Christian communities throughout the world to honor great teachers on the anniversaries of their births, and it's the custom of Jewish communities through-out the world to honor great teachers on the anniversaries of their deaths. One, according to a solar calendar; the other, according to a solar/lunar calendar. It's precisely because of those authentic, honorable differences that we can come together today, that the dates come together that connect the yahrzeits of Rabbi Marshall Meyer and Rabbenu Avraham Yehoshua Heschel, and Reverend Martin Luther King's birthday.
If our traditions used the same calendars or followed the same customs, we would not be able to link, a generation later, the lives that were linked in life a generation ago. And I think that is a kind of miracle, a teaching straight from God, of what it means this year for us to gather. And then it turns out that the parasha that we're studying, this week of that convergence is Parashat Sh'mot, the beginning of the story of our liberation, the beginning of the story of the birthing of a people, and the birthing of freedom. The miracle is compounded. For we look at Parashat Sh'mot, and what do we find?
One thing we find is the story of the two midwives, Shifra and Puah, who together do the first recorded act of nonviolent civil disobedience in all of human history. What could be a more powerful root for Heschel, for King, for Meyer? Marshall Meyer, whose entire life, for more than a decade, day and night, was a single act of civil disobedience in fascist Argentina, and King and Heschel, who marched side by side against racism in America and against the American War in Vietnam. As Rabbenu Heschel said, "Not just marching. My legs were praying."
What does it mean for us to be able to look back at that story of the midwives? And to look at the story in which Pharoah's daughter joins with Miriam, across national lines, across racial lines, joins together to save Moshe, in another act of nonviolent civil disobedience to help the process of liberation take another step together.