It’s Rosh Hashanah again – The kids I tutored for B’nai Mitzveh are parents, now, and some are grandparents. If time is a river, there I am, rushing downstream, trying to find a rock I can hang on to. The world has changed intellectually, socially, and sexually in the last four decades. People don’t go to drug stores for ice cream sodas, and the encyclopedia isn’t a shelf of books. The gap between what we say and what we do, however, has stayed the same, even though there’s a change in what we are ashamed of.
In the flow of time, it’s easy to forget that the Torah is nestled under the great wings of the rest of the Tanach: Ruth, The Samuels. The Kings, that show us to ourselves over hundreds of years. The pastoral nomads we see in Abraham’s time have given way to settled, warring tribes with a mentality different from Abraham out of Ur and Joseph, stripped and thrown into a well. Villages yielded to cities. All those wars are fought on a land I wish wasn’t the disputed corridor for the whole near and middle east. How do I get there? Through here.
Time passed. We got law. We invented man-woman partnership, the Sabbath, slave-right, land reform, amnesty for tenant labor, divorce for incompatibility and a monotheism combined with ethics which the Greeks only hinted at. Monotheism posits the loneliness of a God who has no one but his creation to interact with. Someone else invented bubble gum, the safety pin and airplanes.
Then came the diaspora after the last of the destructions of Jerusalem, which was a tragedy of huge proportions, not only by the number of people killed, but by a spiritual loss and an upheaval that must have been monstrous – PTSD for the Masses. And yet – History tells us that peoples who are stationary and adapted to their environments tend to stay where they are, even in harrowing losses. When forced to move, they tend to keep moving. Our own Westward expansion was carried out mostly by the Scots-Irish Scottish people who had been sent to Ireland by the British to teach the Irish how to farm in poor land. When the potato failed, the Scots-Irish came here, and, wrenched yet again from their attachment to place, pulled us along with them across the continent.
We Jews were uprooted. Nations buried us, someone said, only to find out that we were seeds. So we sprouted here. Now, we seem to have come upon an era of toleration, but is it because humankind is becoming less human and more kind? Or that people just don’t give a damn any more?
Much history that you read says that democracy was the gift of the Greeks, mentioning the word itself and that as in Greek democracy, the vote was originally limited to free males only. They forget the influence of the New Testament, which is a midrash on the Old Testament, which is another of our stunning gifts to the world.
Our Sages tell us that everyone should have two pockets. In one should be a paper on which is written: You were conceived from a germ in a drop of slime and your end is reeking decay. In the other pocket should be a paper that says: It was for you that the universe was created. Next week will be time enough for the continuing saga of a drop of slime. This week I’ve featured our up-side. Gut Yontif. Gut yor. The lofty idea of the sages in that may be a little too lofty. The Universe may not have been created for us, but pleasure was, gratitude was, apples and honey were and so was and is the love of our families and our friends.