Sunday, November 15, 2009

One Nation Under G-d. Really?

One Nation Under G-d. Really?

Every day, millions of America's schoolchildren, be they Christian, Jewish, or agnostic rise from their chairs and recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands. One Nation Under G-d.

This week, I would like to examine the definition of "One Nation Under G-d", and explore what it really means to be a "Nation". And, what it means to be a "Nation under G-d".

Two weeks ago, we read Parshat Lekh Lekha, from the Book of Genesis, Chapter 12. In the second line of this reading, G-d promises Abram that his descendants will be a Great Nation (And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing). To me, this means that G-d has promised Abram and his descendants that they will be a "Nation under G-d". And, if we think about it, are we not all descendants of Abram? We certainly are as Jews. Those who believe in different theology, worshiping as Christians or Catholic Christians or Protestants or Mormons acknowledge this connection, and acknowledge as well that G-d, and only G-d created Heaven and Earth and all their hosts thereof.

Let's slow down for a moment and re-read: Just so I am clear with my own writing, IF we believe in G-d; and IF we believe that G-d created the Heavens and Earth and, basically, everything; and IF we believe that Abram was a person (the same guy who married Sarai/Sara, and later had his name changed to Abraham, had a couple sons, and so forth), then, we must believe that G-d promised to make Abram and his descendants A GREAT NATION; and, in turn, that nation would be a Nation Under G-d; and, if this is all the case, then are we all not One Nation Under G-d?

A few weeks ago, my friend, the enthralling author, Stephen Lewis (The Palestine Exchange, AuthorHouse (2007) ISBN-13: 978-1434334725) invited me to attend an event at Phoenix Symphony Hall called " A Night to Honour Israel". All I needed to hear that this was a night to honour Israel, and I was on-board. When he told me that the amazing Dennis Prager was to be the Key Note Speaker, I asked Steve how many extra tickets he could get me!

Upon my arrival, I was greeted by a massive demonstration of alleged Christians, who carried signs depicting Israel as bad guys, of course; Christians who believe in Israel's right to exist, as bad guys; and of course, the obvious attempts to make us believe that Missile wielding terrorists who call themselves Palestinians, as the "good guys", as abused as they have been by Christian Americans. I find it strange that these yahoos outside claiming all of this hatred in the name of Christianity, while all the while, the real Christians were inside the building, helping make a case for, and supporting our little Country.

Inside, an air of almost electricity was collecting, and inside the amazing Symphony Hall, the evening absolutely rocked. My Colleague Rabbi Arthur Lavinsky helped welcome the audience and blew a masterful set of Tekiyot on his Shofar; World Class Christian singer/performer Rhoda Schultz held us all at bay with her angelic, yet powerful voice and Pastor Eddie Paul Morris reminded us time and again that we are all children of G-d, as further stated in Parshat Lekh Lecha, Genesis 12 continues, "And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed." No matter our Theology, we all agree that we need to remember that we are all... One Nation Under G-d.

The evening continued with Holocaust survivor Helen Handler returning us to the worst time in known history with her recollections, followed by the wonderfully talented actress and voice/accent aficionado Susan Sandager who performed as the Dutch Christian Heroine of WWII, Cori tenBoom. And then, the real fun started.

The brilliant, popular and exuberant Dennis Prager carried us the rest of the way. Dennis' sheer knowledge of almost anything political, and almost everything Jewish, combined with the single most charismatic personality that I have ever experienced brought the filled room to its feet with his admission of his love for Israel, and his love for brotherhood and his love for peace. Thank you Dennis. You were, as usual, brilliant, enlightening, spiritual and educational. Rav Todot.

My next question brings us to understanding borders. Does a Nation have borders, or is a Nation merely the people who exist within it?

Parshat Lekh Lekha further reads: And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Sichem, unto the plain of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land. And the L-RD appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the L-RD, who appeared unto him. And he removed from thence unto a mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, having Bethel on the west, and Hai on the east: and there he builded an altar unto the L-RD, and called upon the name of the L-RD.

It is for this land that we live. It is for this land that we pray. And it is for this land that we fight. We live and pray and fight for this land from all corners of this great earth that G-d created; AND, we do so as... One Nation Under G-d.

Manhigut Yehudit, The Jewish Leadership Movement, led by Moshe Feiglin supports the above, and actually holds to the platform that "A Jewish state must be absolutely faithful to the Land of Israel -- the Land that was promised in its Biblical borders to the Fathers of the Nation by the Creator of the world -- and includes the understanding of the positive connection between the Land and the ability of the Nation of Israel to fulfill its earthly goals."

We, as One Nation Under G-d, must support this platform. We must support it theologically, physically and financially as we are able. We must understand and realize that Moshe Feiglin and Manhigut Yehudit are not a group of fanatics dancing to their own beat, rather, they are US. Moshe is you and Moshe is me. Moshe is my brother and he is your cousin. He is your uncles best friend and the bus driver that drove you to work last week. Moshe believes that we are all One Nation Under G-d, and that the land promised to us by, and given to us by our One Creator, was, is and will always be our land.

This is easier said than done, many say. I ask why? Why should this be a difficult task if we are truly one? If we are truly one, why is it that we fight, not just against each other, but between ourselves? Why is it that Orthodox Shuls refuse to recognize Reform Temples? Why must Conservative Synagogues feel the need to compete for the affections of anyone with a large checkbook, with more and more lenient and liberal interpretation of Halakha (Jewish Law) from week to week? Why must Reform Temples, with all of their wonderful intentions to renew Yiddishkeit and bring Judaism to families, feel that a competition exists for the wealthiest families?

The answer is simple and it is also very sad. The reason that everyone feels the need to fight is because this competition, in every industry and profession was created by the "American Dream". The dream that in reality is, but a fantasy, brought on by an evil sister of Jealousy. Her name is Greed.

G-d commands us to not worship other Gods. We do, though. She is green (envy) and comes with numbers like 1, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 in each of her four corners. We worship her because this "American Dream" has told us that we so need her. And more of her, and more and more. Like a street drug, we have become addicted to her and her power. And unfortunately, as all addictions and diseases, she has infected even Houses of G-d.

Before I entered the Rabbinate, I once asked a cynical Rabbi friend of mine how it is that many Synagogues go so far against Halakha in the name of donations, he answered me accordingly: He who has the gold, makes the rules, he said. I wanted to cry. I asked myself then: What has happened to us?

In the Siddur, in our daily prayers, and upon rising and going to sleep, four times daily, we are told what G-d expects from us. V'Ahavta et haShem Elokeikha... "And thou shalt love the L-RD thy G-d with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up."

What, I ask, could be so difficult to, not just understand, but perform? How have we, collective as One Nation Under G-d forgotten the most simple of all instructions? I especially ask many in the position of making certain that we say these words daily: Why? How did we forget what we are all supposed to stand for? When did the messenger become more important than the message? We are, after all, One Nation Under G-d. Are we not?

Emek haMidbar was built with this exact purpose. To bring Judaica to those who otherwise could not afford to belong. To bring Judaica to the 75-85% of our Community who are unaffiliated. Not to steal Congregants away from other Synagogues, where they have found spirituality, religiosity, friendship and brother (sister)hood. Even though I acknowledge that this "competition" exists, I do not, nor will I buy into it.

My friends and Colleagues, Rabbis Michael Wasserman and Elana Kanter of The New Shul in Scottsdale, believe in the philosophy that selling membership into a community turns Congregants into Customers. I could not agree more.

If our Kindergartners, our third, fifth and ninth graders can remember to say it every day, we absolutely must find a way to live it every day. We are all One Nation Under G-d. Maybe if we do, we will all be able to get along better. To better support each other as opposed to using Lashon haRa in daily life; to utilize our tools to bring more Torah to more people, affiliated and unaffiliated alike; and in the end, be better people.

From the Emek in haMidbar of Scottsdale, Arizona, I wish you, Ahavah u'Vrachot.
Peace and love...

Shavuah Tov.

--Rabbi Alan Abrams