06 August 2011
Redeemed with Justice
"Hear O heavens and give ear, O earth, for the Eternal has spoken; children I have reared and brought up, and they have rebelled against Me. The ox knows its owner, and the ass his master's crib; but Israel does not know, My people does not consider...Your country is desolate; your cities are burned with fire; your land, strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown by floods."
Isaiah's calculus is simple: Societies go astray when they lose their moral bearings. Neither leadership nor citizenry is exempt from the dire consequences of our individual and communal failings. Offerings are hypocritical; pronouncements are empty. God, through the prophet, wants results.
"Learn to do well; seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow."
When societies are built upon their care for the least advantaged, the universe is made right. Its calculus, its balance, is restored.
We have, here in the United States, only gained but a brief respite from the pyrrhic victory of Congress' recent debt-ceiling deal. The people remain greatly dissatisfied with the lack of vision emanating from Washington and there is a sense of dread for a real reckoning that will greatly and negatively effect millions of citizens, the poorest preparing to be the most severely challenged.
The reticence to fight for what is right--to demand that just as the poor concede on entitlements so must the rich pay a greater share in taxes--has lost to the more damaging narrative of American exceptionalism: Freedom as Individual Rights to do what we want, when we want, where we want.
Rick Perry holds a Prayer Rally in Houston; Snooki and her friends shop in Florence; Danny Meyer expands his cheeseburger empire. An Allied helicopter is shot down in Afghanistan, killing 39, including 31 Americans. And that's just today's paper. The volatile mixture of lousy entertainment, gourmet junk-food, pandering religio-governors, and a desperately impossible war mission is, to my mind, the quintessential sign of an empire in decline. If you want a sense of just how delusional Governor Perry is, look at this video, in which his articulation of Biblical principles is that we should save our money and not the "Pharaoh" of the government take our money. Outlandish!
That our leadership lacks the humility to understand how far we've gone from being able to focus our ideals and directions on a shared path forward is gravely concerning. Isaiah warns the Jewish people in this week's haftarah that without a concern for widow and the orphan--above all else--societies can be made to crumble. Fortuitously, during the Three Weeks of Warning leading up to Tisha B'Av, the Israeli collectivity has grown in its commitment to reflect upon the values of Zionism and where necessary, re-take the vision of the State and set it, again, on the right path.
Let's say 180-200,000 people take to the streets tonight in Tel Aviv and across the country. The American equivalent would be about 9 million people rallying in Washington and across the country--for equal rights; economic justice; fair housing; a more robust education. Imagine that.
At the very least, for all those ringing their hands about Israel's future, one should be greatly heartened by this movement, which, so far, shows very few signs of diminishing in strength.
The stakes for Israel are enormously high and in these challenging times, the population is awakening to forging a path forward, unleashing an energy and optimism that has certain people like Shlomo Avineri harkening back to the founding of the state in 1948.
"Zion shall be redeemed with justice, and they that return of her with righteousness." The young in Israel have taken up this cause. May they continue to find strength in the days and weeks ahead. It remains to be seen, alas, what the young here America are willing to say and do in order to make their ideals truly known. Governor Perry will have us pray for rain and lower taxes. Surely, there's a better idea out there this weekend.
Meanwhile, I'm going to the rally for social justice in Israel in Times Square.