An Oasis of Freedom and Justice
“I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.”
“I Have a Dream,” Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
After quoting Amos 5:24 about justice rolling like a mighty stream in his most famous speech, Dr. King, z”l, then belted out the soaring vision quoted above. In it he exquisitely captured the style of the ancient Hebrew prophets, howling against the injustice of their time but then summoning their strength to describe a more worthy and noble future.
The first chapter of Isaiah, which is read this week of Shabbat Hazon leading into the fast of Tishah Be’av, builds up to an enraged denunciation of the corrupt leaders of Israel—judges, priests and prophets—who have betrayed their ideals, their people, and God. But Isaiah concludes his terrifying vision with the promise that “Zion shall be redeemed by justice.” In the Talmud (BT Shabbat 139a), Ulla teaches that Jerusalem can be redeemed only through the practice of righteousness. Only a just city of Jerusalem can be home to the divine presence.
As it was in Isaiah’s Israel, and in Ulla’s Babylonia, and in King’s Mississippi, so, too, is it for us today. Injustice undermines society and estranges God. Justice and righteousness are the paths to salvation. This is our challenge and also our comfort as we seek to finally transform our society into “an oasis of freedom and justice.”
This commentary was first published in 5775.