This week marked the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. I was reminded of what a profound impact that event had on my then twelve-year-old self when I attended an interfaith gathering to honor Dr. King’s legacy this week. At the gathering, Rabbi Noah Chertkoff, Imam Yaseen Masjid Al-Rahman, and the Rev. Dr. John Walton took turns speaking of the need for each of us to continue the work of fighting against racism in all of its forms, work that was only just beginning when Dr. King’s life was tragically cut short. Each of the speakers drew from the wisdom of their own faith tradition and each shared stories and ideas that were memorable.
I continue to think about the wisdom that each speaker shared, and there is one story, told by Rabbi Chertkoff, that has stayed with me and I would like to share it with you. In ancient days a rabbi gathered his students together just before dawn and asked them a question: “How does one know the exact moment when night has ended and morning has begun?” The first student replied, “When I can look out and see the point at where my farm field ends and my neighbor’s begins, that is when morning as begun.” A second student answered, “When I can look out and can make out the shape of my neighbor’s house from my own, that is when morning begins.” The rabbi smiled but shook his head indicating these answers were not correct.
The last student offered, “When I can look out in my field and can tell the difference between a horse and cow, then morning has arrived.” At this point, the rabbi spoke, “Each of you is mistaken because you have all focussed on division and how you know morning has come when you are able to divide and separate one thing from another. I am here to tell you that at the very moment when you can look at every man and woman regardless of their race, creed, or color and see them as your brother or sister—that is when the night has ended and morning has begun.”
What a beautiful old story and a reminder for all of us that focusing on what divides and separates us is not how new light comes into the world. It is instead when we can see that we are all brothers and sisters that a new day can be born. As we sat together this week honoring Dr. King, Christians, Jews, and Muslims, I had a glimpse of how the higher moral truths that he spoke of do indeed have the ability to unite us, offering genuine hope for a new morning.