Post-Politicalby Rabbi Jacob Rupp October 30, 2017
Before the blood dries, I rationalize why it couldn’t happen here. We are protected. It can’t happen again. For me the specter of terrorism is more luminous than anti-Semitism but the landscape could always change. But to be alive today, reading the news today requires one to build mental barriers to avoid the paranoia.
There is no question that the world is in a mode of tremendous volatility. The political situation at home and abroad is highly charged. Based on the wild natural disasters as of late it appears the physical planet is volatile. Long before climate change, the rabbis were clear that the nature of the world is deeply reactive to the state and action of humanity.
What should we do about it? What can we do about it?
Rather than being pessimistic and sensational, despite my natural inclination to do so, I choose to be optimistic. At times like this, and really at all times, I try to recall an important lesson the Torah imparts about the potential of a single person. At the end of Genesis, the Torah lists a single name per generation, from Adam to Noah. From here the rabbis deduce that it was only this single person that was righteous, and the rest of humanity was a failure. But this one righteous person upheld and sustained the entire generation.
Let’s go further; Jews invented the future. Think about it. In the pagan worldview, the future didn’t really exist. The world was static and random; there was no progress to a better tomorrow. Enter Judaism and the Jews, who preached the eminent (even if it was 6,000 years away) messianic era. G-d created the world with a purpose! Shabbat was not only a weekly occurrence but a global one that would happen after 6,000 years, and that history was progressing towards a time when G-d reveal Himself to mankind and the world would finally be at peace.
The concept that “tomorrow will be better” is a revolutionary and life changing one. It is so easy to focus on the failures of our world, our nation, our government, our communities, and ourselves. And the constant and total flow of information from every part of the world makes us feel as if our lives are hanging by a string. One could look at that is terrifying. But our tradition has long been regarding this as the epitome of strength and happiness.
With Sukkot in our rearview, we shouldn’t forget the lesson of the holiday that the ultimate happiness the Jew can experience is when we go out of our homes, to our fragile huts, and recognize that we are completely at G-d’s mercy. The security of our homes, pension, 401k’s, investments, and militaries are but our ancient psychological mechanism to assign some kind of external source of security to our lives, when in reality we have none.
And perhaps we should stop seeking that stability. Our security can’t be guaranteed by the government, our happiness shouldn’t stem for Facebook or Netflix. Real security is knowing that life is short and that we must take advantage of every moment. The only thing for sure is the moment.
Each one of us carries within us a seed of potential to find our problem in the world to fix. The more problems, the more opportunities. Any investor or professional will tell you that the real art, the real test, comes when things go “wrong.” Anyone can sail a ship in smooth waters. The choppy waters test and reveal our inner greatness.
We have to develop the vision to see the world and its lack of security as evidence that we don’t have much to lose by trying to make the world a better place, or make our dreams come true. It is always easier to ring our hands, complain, and find fault. It’s a lot harder to turn inward, see our greatness, and attempt to reflect it onto the world. But the Torah says once we do that, we not only can justify our own existence, but we can create the change we want to see in ourselves and in humankind. A