Without claiming a moral supremacy, it is so important to remember why Jews always tend to commit themselves to lost causes, abandoned ideals and dreams of a better world. In short, its called Tikun Olam, the demand, the one single injunction all Jews cannot deny we are called to – Repair the world. This world.
For Jews, there is no other world. This is it. And while the Rabbis of the Talmud and our liturgy allude to a life beyond this one that we know now, it is at best an academy of eternal learning and at worst, a seeming netherworld without characterization. Some Jews speak of an actual someday Messiah, others speak of a Messianic age, and still others believe, as one author put it, “There is no Messiah and you are it.” But nowhere in Judaism or Jewish tradition do we hope for or pray for or pine away for the next chapter. This is the only chapter, the only book that matters. This one that we are living right now. And if it works out that our souls find themselves in some conscious state of a paradise to come, as we say in Texas, “Hell yeah!”
We Jews pretend that the theme of all Jewish holidays is, “They tried to kill us. We won. Let’s eat.” But its actually not anything like that at all. Rather, the theme of all Jewish holidays is, “They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s feed the ones who suffer now that we are in a place to help.” Its just that simple. What does Moses tell Israel is their first ritual act upon exiting Egypt? With our Paschal offering in hand, we are to approach the Kohen and declare, “Arami oved Avi,” “My father was a wandering Aramaen.” And with that one sentence, the spiritual cardiologist understands why there is no healing of this Jewish bleeding heart.
Our Sages work so hard to resist the temptation of the “Yay Jews Syndrome.” Celebrate at the death of the Egyptians? Not without spilling some of our wine, for the loss of any human being robs us of joy. Take solace in the miracle of the parting of the Red Sea? Not on your life. This wasn’t a miracle! It was a temporary alteration of the space time continuum that God put into place at the very beginning of creation – a bold and strong East wind blowing, awaiting the moment when Israel would need to cross into freedom. (Never to happen again.) Not for Jewish survival alone though. But for the reminder that all people, in every place, at all times, are free and cannot be allowed to be enslaved. Not any kind of slavery. None. Nein. Nicht! Borscht! Efes! Zilch! No way Jose!
But surely, freedom at least means that the land I purchase and till and sow and plant and harvest – as a free person, all of it is mine. Correct? No, sorry, not what the Torah says. Corners – they aren’t just for you to harvest and share what you’d like with the poor. No, the corners, no matter how hard you have worked and sacrificed, the corners don’t belong to you. And of your central harvest, you still have to give your portion for Tzedaka. Sorry, just what the Torah says.
And by the way…
Sticks and stones? – Nope, you’re responsible for your words as if they were sticks and stones.
Finders Keepers? – Sorry but thanks for playing! You find something that doesn’t belong to you, a wallet or an ox, you move mountains until it is returned to its rightful owner.
At Your Own Risk? – Survey says, Ehhh! – If it’s the desert and its just too hot for you and guests to sleep in your home and you must sleep outside on the roof, you better build a parapet because you’re liable if someone falls off your roof in their sleep.
And if you think that at least the Torah puts us in charge of the land, air and sea with which we can do whatever we choose – wrong. Cuz there’s God leading Adam through the Garden of Eden, showing off (as it were) the marvelous and beautiful natural world God has created. Turning to Adam, though, God warns and prophesies, “But till it and tend it well. For there is no world that will come to replace it.”
I believe one can see the causes listed here as equally liberal and conservative. These values are not the purview of one side of the political spectrum or the other. The truths born out of our biblical tradition insist that there is no peace when there is suffering, that there is no wealth when there are those who are hungry, that there is no safety when there are those who are in danger.
For us Jews at least, let these Biblical maxims be our measuring stick. I’m tired of the arguments that pretend that truth and righteousness belong to one side or the other. Its called “politics” for a reason – its point is to stand at one pole and distinguish yourself from someone else. It’s a way to divvy up offices but its no way to secure basic human rights for all people. The push and pull of sides is valuable when our goal is to find our way to the middle. For in the middle, there is a maintainable balance for everyone involved. Do we get everything we want in the middle? No. But do we we get everything we need? Surely. And are we necessarily happy about it? No, but that’s why we call it a practice. And, in any case, happiness isn’t about what we don’t got.