On Monday I followed a custom I’ve undertaken to listen to a speech of Martin Luther King, Jr. on the day America has dedicated to him based loosely on his birthday, and in listening to his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech I heard him say this:
“If I were standing at the beginning of time, with the possibility of taking a kind of general and panoramic view of the whole of human history up to now, and the Almighty said to me, ‘Martin Luther King, which age would you like to live in?’ I would take my mental flight by Egypt and I would watch G-d’s children in their magnificent trek from the dark dungeons of Egypt through, or rather across, the Red Sea, through the wilderness on toward the Promised Land. And in spite of its magnificence, I wouldn’t stop there.”
The significance of the timing of hearing this as we are embarking on our own journey through the book of Shmot is coincidental but should not be overlooked. King was talking about the incredible efforts he had seen in his own time of fighting against injustice and in doing so in a way that was transformational to the United States.
I agree with King that the Exodus is not the time period in which I would like to live. But as a Jew, my own wish is to experience Judaism in its ideal form, with a Temple on the Temple Mount. This is not a call for “change in the status quo” today (we’ll leave such an objective to G-d Himself). But were I to take that panoramic view through history with the opportunity to settle anywhere on the timeline, that is where I’d like to go.
And the truth is, this was really the dream of our Master Teacher, Moshe Rabbenu. Yalkut Shimoni (Devarim 823) says that “Moshe wanted to see the Temple, and G-d showed it to him, as it says [amongst the things in the land that G-d showed him] ‘and the Gilaad’.” Gilaad is a reference to the Temple.
In his commentary on Bamidbar 20, Or haChaim references the viewpoint that had Moshe entered the land and built the Temple, there would be no second thought against enacting G-d’s wrath against the Jewish people when they sinned. G-d saw what the Israelites might do in the future and considered that “if Moshe enters the land and builds the Temple, and G-d has cause to pour out His wrath against the Jews for their behavior, He will pour it out against them instead of against their Temple which Moshe will have built.” Should this come to pass, the Israelite nation will be wiped off the map.
The idea that Moshe will not enter the Land is hinted to in the last comment of Rashi on the parsha, in quoting a Talmudic passage from Sanhedrin, that “Now you will see what I will do to Egypt,” which implies, “But you will not see what I do to the nations of Canaan because you will not enter the land.”
And so we are left to ask, what period of time would we like to be in? Is this time and place in history we are meant to be in, and therefore should embrace even with its challenges? How about those who don’t like election results?
For us, as Jews, what time would we like to be in?
King said, “I just want to do G-d’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land.”
That was the conclusion Moshe came to at the end of his life: I’ll have to be satisfied with the life I was given.
But if we believe in a promise for the future that might perhaps give us an opportunity for a different kind of Jewish experience, what are we doing to help us get there? What will our own personal “Promised Land” be?
May we merit to get there in our lifetimes.