57 years ago today, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. shared these words with the world:
“I have a dream this afternoon that my four little children will not come up in the same young days that I came up within, but they will be judged on the basis of the content of their character, not the color of their skin.”
We all know too well that, despite the heroic efforts of Dr. King and so many others, Dr. King’s dream is still not a reality.
On April 4, 1968, Dr. King was assassinated, leaving us with his dream.
In this week’s Torah portion, we read about the ancient Israelite practice known as Levirate Marriage that required a man to marry his brother’s widow if his brother passes away without having had a child. When the man and the widow marry and have a child, the child will carry the name of the deceased brother. In this way, the Torah teaches us, the deceased brother’s memory is preserved and his legacy protected. The Torah explains that a man may refuse to marry his brother’s widow. In this case, the Torah explains that the widow will approach the man before the elders of the community, remove his shoe from his foot and “spit before his face,” saying, “Thus shall be done to the man who will not build up his brother’s household!” After this, the widow may marry any other man.
What relevancy does this practice have for us today?
If we look at the deeper meaning of Levirate Marriage, we see that through this ancient practice, Torah is driving home the importance of legacy. If someone’s life is cut short before he is able to have a child, before he is able to bring into this world lessons and ideas that will make a real difference, before his dream is realized, those who were touched by him are urged to do whatever possible to ensure that his memory is a blessing. To do so does not require bringing children into this world. It does, however, require us to tell the stories of those who we have lost, continue the fights and battles they began, and build great things in their names.
“Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.
And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’”
 (Dr. Martin Luther King, I Have A Dream)
Dr. King left an incredible legacy. His children and extended family are making his memory his blessing. But, he left us all with his dream – a dream that has yet to be realized. Through the bizarre ritual of Levirate Marriage, we are reminded that we must each do our part to make Dr. King’s dream a reality. There is so much difficult work to do to make this happen.
Where do we begin? Dr. King tells us in the title of the last book he wrote before his assassination, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? In his “I Have a Dream” speech, he told us that, “We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.” Dr. King wants us all to turn our back on chaos and embrace community, to forge powerful bonds and connections with each other and unite. In this divided world, torn to pieces by so much hate, it will be hard to forge these bonds and connections, but this is what we must do. This is how we will not only confront the chaos. This is not only how we will choose community. This is how we will make Dr. King’s dream a reality.

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