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Monday, 5 September 2016

A Call To Action for the Month of Elul

We must always remember that Israel is chosen not because of the drops of blood in our veins, but because of the drop of blood that binds us to our covenant with Gd.

That must always be at the forefront of every thought, every action and every prayer we offer. Especially as we try and bring about redemption, a redemption that Gd has promised, but not one that comes without our effort. That is the covenant. If we are faithful to it, to the action of redemption, then Gd will bring it to fruition. That is the true meaning of returning. When we, as a nation, return to our mission, then Gd will remove every obstacle from our path.

And it's long past time that we return to the path of Redemption.

Redemption will not fall out of the sky. Redemption must be earned. We must strive for redemption, with every breath, with every ounce of strength; with every thought and with every prayer. The prophets gave us signs, but those signs are not predictions, parlor tricks to share with friends or tweet to followers. Those prophesies are prescriptions, plans of actions, that Gd demands we follow when the signs are made manifest. It is true that the soul of the Temple will descend from the Heavens, but only once the body is built by our efforts, just as the souls of our children are delivered after the consummation of the mitswah between husband and wife.

If we want to bring redemption, truly want it, not as a slogan, nor as dream, but as a tangible reality, then we need to develop large scale action programs to make the dream a reality.

And in order to develop these massive action programs, we need to dispel a few old wives' tales that have become entrenched in our community.

First is the myth that only time can solve our problems. That if we are just patient, and wait, all will be be resolved with time, all the injustices will dissipate, and the world order will be upturned. That with time, and nothing else, everyone will magically become transformed, recognize truth, discard their baser nature and then society as a whole will be transformed into a mythical paradise. I've heard this over and over again, as the “solution.” Those that offer it are sincere, and are well intended, but I think those who hold such views are severely mistaken, and in fact, through their sincere but misplaced forbearance, they become one of the main obstacles to redemption.

For time is not, by it's very nature, a solution for the evils of the world. At it's very best, time is neutral, but more often it is the forces of evil, of ill will, that use time far more effectively than the forces for good. Time wears the average good intended individual down, distances him from the ultimate goal, from his dream and gives him half measures and hollow compromises in its stead. Time conditions us to accept the status quo, and offers us excuses for postponing the realization of our dream. Time entrenches foreign gods in our hearts, and normalizes a reality we should fight against. Time numbs us to the injustices and the indignities we are subjected to daily, until all we can do is look forward to a future time, when it things might be different.

It may be that our generation will be forced to stand before the True Judge, not only for the evil perpetrated in our name, but for the resounding silence and misplaced forbearance of good people who demand that we wait on time to solve our ills. The forbearance of Ribbi Zekhariah ben Avkulos did not only cause the destruction of the Temple, and exile us from our Land, but it continues to prevent us, restraining any endeavor which would effect our return.

I would think that by now, we would acknowledge that Redemption does not travel on the conveyance of inevitability, but only through tireless struggle and persistent effort. Without hard work, time becomes the ally of stagnation and status quo. Time follows the law of entropy and unless we continue moving forward, any progress we have made towards redemption will soon unravel.

We must realize, we must internalize, that it is always the right time, to do the right thing.

There is another old wives tale that must be removed from our system like the infectious virus it is. That is the myth that Torah must be followed only through the desire and full free will of the individual; that legislation, and compulsion can not bring our nation to realize Redemption. There is a fable that is told among our people these days that only love will bring the nation into compliance with our covenantal responsibilities.

There are many well meaning, but misguided people in our midst, who argue that we need to change the heart, and one can't change the heart through compulsion.

Now, I will be the first to acknowledge that there needs to be a lot of “heart changing” among our people, and I commend all those who reach out to the heart of every individual they meet. There are many who tirelessly work, going from heart to heart to free that beating vessel from it's false constraints. Those teachers and individuals that make it their life's work to transform and return the hearts of Jews to their Maker are the vanguard of our nation.

But, after saying this, let me offer the other side, that although it might be true that moral feelings can't be forced, behavior can be regulated. Even though the law can't change the heart, it can restrain the heartless, and while compulsion can't make a person love God or his Torah, it can create an environment that makes it possible for me to fully serve God. It is true that law cannot change the hearts of humanity, but as our sages have so often pointed out, it can change the habits of our daily lives, and when you begin to change a person's daily habits, the change of heart will soon follow.

Repentance and returning to Gd is not a passive matter, not for the individual and not for the nation. It is totally and completely active. And even though it is a good thing to want for and to crave for it always, that alone is not sufficient. While it is true that when we begin to turn towards Gd, He will turn towards us, we must begin by turning first. We must fulfill our covenantal responsibilities, in its entirety, and fulfill all of the mitswoth as a nation, not just the ones that appeal to us, or are easy for us, or are acceptable to the nations of the world – all of the mitswoth.

When we returned the first time as a nation, it wasn't a complete redemption. In fact, Ezra describes it as only a 'taste' of redemption. But, the first thing they did was to build an altar and act as if it were a complete redemption. And even though we never achieved complete redemption during the Second Temple period, the more we acted as if it were a complete redemption, the greater taste of redemption Gd gave us.

The time has come, not to delay or to linger, but to build the redemption with our own hands.

May it be His will.

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