There is power in victimhood. Rabbi David Wolpe has noted that if you can successfully present yourself as a victim, then you get much more of what you want.
Today it seems as if everybody presents as an innocent David, opposed by an oppressive Goliath. But a biblical David’s introduction to public life – confronting Goliath – does not represent the sum of his legacy. This week’s prophetic portion features a text that captures the twilight of his accomplished career.
“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. Martin Luther King, preaching on this passage just days prior to his assassination, paraphrased further. “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.”
Rev. King went on to catalogue leaders from Gandhi to Woodrow Wilson who did not live to see their dreams fulfilled. He concluded by challenging us to not desist from that which may seem 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.” The power of Rev. King message did not rise from his victimhood. His voice soared because it was aspirational.
New York Times editor Bari Weiss has noted that the Declaration of Independence was written by people who did not believe King was a full human. “And yet, rather than emphasizing that, he was able to see in it what he called ‘a promissory note’ for what African Americans deserve which are the same rights as everybody else.”
Rev. King understood not just the dawn of young David’s rise to power, but also the dusk of King David’s career when he strove for higher ground, when he reached toward future generations.
Yes, all hatreds matter and are wrong. Alas, now, yet again, it is necessary to particularly clarify how trafficking in anti-Semitic tropes paves an odious avenue forward.
May those who make common cause with a higher cause earn more widespread allegiance.