I’ve been listening to some of Martin Luther King’s speeches as a way of getting into the spirit of observing this weekend’s holiday. My God! What an extraordinary orator. The intensity of his rhetoric and the depth of his faith created a kind of energy that to this day continues to inspire me and so many others.
I wonder: if MLK had been born a generation later than he was, what kind of impact would he have? In a world of fumfering, inarticulate politicians, would MLK be appreciated? Or would he be derided as unrealistic or too vague? Would his speeches be deemed too much dream, too little substance?
The Jewish people are very comfortable with dreams and dreamers. Jacob’s dream of the stairway to heaven and the angels going up and coming down inspires us every time with thoughts of timelessness and the proximity of the sacred. Joseph’s interpretations of the Pharoah’s dreams changed his life and altered the destiny of the Jewish people.
Tachlis, the Yiddish word for “the bottom line,” is a crucial component in a successful society. But without the dream, without the vision, all we have is the quotidian, the humdrum of daily life without much in the way of excitement or more importantly, inspiration.
Inspiration comes from the Latin that means to take air into one’s lungs. I get it. Without inspiration, we die. And if we consider that biological truth and then parse its metaphorical strength it makes a lot of sense. Without inspiration, without a particular someone or something that moves us, our souls grow dark.
A collective dream can inspire us to do amazing things; it can motivate us to change the world. Theodor Herzl had a dream about a Jewish state. It was utterly crazy, but he never abandoned it. Herzl’s dream inspired Jews who were desperate to find a raison d’etre, a new sense of meaning and purpose in their lives.
MLK had a dream, too. His was a dream of justice and equality. His dream was about America as a beacon of hope and freedom for the rest of the world as well as for its citizens. He dreamt about racism fading away into love and the acknowledgement that we are all created in God’s image.
MLK was a dreamer who also believed in tachlis. His legacy to keep dreaming and to keep working remains a powerful message. MLK inspired us: he breathed life and vitality into a torn, lost nation. We best honor MLK’s memory by renewing our commitment to his legacy.