15 August 2009

Get To Work

Among the many challenges that Moses puts before the people in this week's Torah portion, Re'eh, an interesting juxtaposition between one's individual spiritual pursuits and the national spiritual pursuits are laid out for consideration.

Warning the people not to fall sway to 'false gods' once they enter the land, God makes very clear that God will be worshipped in a specific place, in a specific way, and that one isn't to just set up any old altar wherever one pleases. There is grave concern that once the preliminary victory of getting into the Holy Land is achieved, there is much more to accomplish. Crossing the river is just the beginning. One can see an eery parallel to what President Obama must feel, rallying a "movement" to get elected only to find that same movement tired and relatively unfocused in accomplishing together what everyone REALLY worked for. Today's Times has an interesting look at grassroots effort for health care reform in Iowa. Take a look.

I get that antsy feeling walking around lately--especially in this area of Brooklyn where everyone is, how can I put it, so satisfied. When in fact we should feel even more dissatisfied. It's one thing to elect someone--it's something else entirely to actually change the way things are. So as the hours, days, weeks and months slip past, we ought to be thinking of ways in which the clock is ticking on this Administration's chance to achieve all we hoped and dreamed it could achieve, realizing that the exhausting work of putting the President in place is just the beginning.

What we achieve as a group and what we care to achieve as individuals. With regard to our Torah portion, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch says about God's insistence on the centrality of our worshipful focus that "the place that God will choose to bear him name must become the center which all of you will honor and which will unite all of you to a national union with God and his Torah."

Now don't worry--I'm not attributing Divine characteristics to political figures. God knows, each has a great variety of fallible qualities. But the singularity of focus truly intrigues me--the idea that the Torah proposes a national unity in law and worship that is critical if the people are to thrive in the land--all the while cognizant of how the pursuit of the individual can threaten that sense of unity.

I take it to mean, in our own corner of the planet, that as satisfied as we are with our food and our homes and progressive little enclave here in Brooklyn, a national project calls for our attention: our parks and roads; our schools and factories; our hospitals and court rooms and prisons and board rooms. All the country did in November of 2008 was cross a border. The work--and it's nothing if not work--will take generations to achieve the work which has at its core the loftiest of aspirations for building that better world.

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