01 February 2010


The eleventh of 19 brief meditations on the 19 blessings of the Amidah.


Restore our judges as in former times, and our counselors as at the beginning; and remove from us sorrow and sighing. Reign over us, you alone, Eternal, with lovingkindness and compassion, and clear us in judgment. Blessed are you, Eternal, the Ruler who loves righteousness and justice.

The spiritual yearning for better leaders from earlier times--an aspiration that especially today is particularly relevant. We must be cautious in our reading of this prayer not to rely solely on the call for God to intervene but for us to do the work ourselves. One is reminded of the Children of Israel complaining to God in the desert immediately following their redemption, Moses asking God to intervene, and God chastising Moses, saying, "What are you crying at me for? Get to work!" The work of redemption is ours, not God's. The obligation to bring righteousness and justice is ours, not God's.

Some say that in difficult times, people retreat to religion and faith, rejecting the "secular" institutions of daily life which are seen as failures in tough times. With this prayer we must say, "Especially in bad times, there are even greater reasons for re-awakening the fundamental values of our nation and bringing them back to life, restoring them, as it were. Selflessness and sacrifice; civility and humility; hard-work, common cause, and common sense."

And patience. Our faith need not be an escape but a bedrock from which to re-build a nation of values. Faith in God or faith in humanity. Faith in the synagogue or faith in government. But faith nonetheless. Our diffused digital age threatens this solidity and that's a problem at times. "Did you see my live Twittering during the State of the Union?" I heard someone say last week.

No, I thought. I didn't. And I'm not interested in your live Twittering. I'm interested in the accumulation of material; in the steady carving of legislation; in the patient sculpting of the monument to shared causes. But the immediate meanderings of a pundit at every laptop? "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity."

But righteousness and justice? There one can hang a hat. It requires a steady hand, a hammer, some nails, and some wood.

Wood. From a tree long ago planted, cultivated, grown to full maturity. Roots of restoration. Branches reaching toward better days.

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