Change Agents

It was March 3, 1968 at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King rose to preach on a passage from this week’s Prophetic portion (Haftorah).   “And it was in the heart of my father David” said King Solomon, “to build a House to honor the Lord, God of Israel.  The Lord said to my father David..’it was good that it was in your heart’s intention to do so” (I Kings 8:17-18).  Rev. King went on to paraphrase, “It was as if God was saying to King David: “You may not be able to finish the Temple.  You won’t even be able to build it.  But I want to bless you because it was good that it was your heart’s intention to do so.” 

King went on to catalogue leaders from Gandhi to Woodrow Wilson who did not live to see their dreams fulfilled.  He concluded by reflecting upon striving to achieve that which may be unachievable. “The thing that makes me happy is that I can hear a voice crying through the vista of time saying, ‘It may not come today, or it may not come tomorrow, but it is good that it is your heart’s intention to do so.”

More recently at a Baltimore event for his acclaimed new book, Between the World and Me, Ta Nehisi Coates spoke of the requirement to struggle to solve problems, especially those that may not be solvable in our lifetime. “Indeed it is selfish for you to say I will only struggle for this cause if I get to see the fruits of my labor in my time.”  Very familiar is the urge not to desist from striving (Rabbi Tarphon Avot: 2:21).

Few dimensions of America’s current effort to elect our next President are more challenging than the plight of facts and information. “An educated citizenry” said Thomas Jefferson” “is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.” But in an era of google-searching, the flow, precision, and sources of data are not encouraging.  Having information is not the same as being informed.    

Yet despair is the companion of capitulation.  Herein lies a difference between the spirits of cynicism (tziniut) and Zionism (tzionut). “Difficult things we do quickly” David Ben Gurion famously said, “The impossible takes a little longer.”

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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