Moral Partnership 3.0, the Kol Dor Fri. nite drash
Posted October 29, 2007
JSAM III, Chesvan 5768
Dvar torah for kol dor Shabbat dinner
By YOSEF ISRAEL ABRAMOWITZ
There is something theologically majestic that global Jewish Social Action Month is inaugurated each year with the universal story of Noah in the Torah and is then followed by the Lech Lecha call to Abraham and followed by the early, particularistic origins of the Jewish people.
A covenant with humanity is followed by a covenant with the Jewish people. Why both?
God is wrestling with how to form a working partnership with the creations of the sixth day. A certain serpent and a tempting piece of forbidden fruit unravel Moral Partnership 1.0.
So God reboots the paradigm. And yet brother kills brother.
The Angels, who had warned God against creation precisely because it was not clear that humanity would be good, have a good case so far. But God is persistent.
Yet humanity fails again and Noah is asked to save a remnant of creation. “Ding”, goes the reboot button and Moral Partnership 2.0 is washed away.
An awesome punishment is followed by a clean planet, as if a giant mikvah purified a sinful earth. The Angels, unsatisfied, peer down and only see vanity grow. A tower of mischief is civilization’s answer to God’s quest for morality.
Not even the memory of genocide at God’s hand could prevent the human spirit from being corrupted.
So God threw a linguistic monkey wrench into the building plans and the people’s vanity was kept in check at least for awhile.
If punishment at God’s hand did not prove to be an effective way to advance the idea of universal moral partnership with humanity, then what is?
Enter, the Jewish people. We witness in the Torah portions of Cheshvan the birth of moral particularism, Lech Lecha, go forth to a land and to a history and to a worldview that God will show you, Abraham and Sarah. And you’ll be a giant nation.
Since we happen to know that Jews are not exactly a giant nation when it comes to numbers, the biblical word here, Gadol, must refer to our potential spirit and contributions. (I also note here that most Jewish organizations seem to be concerned with the numbers game rather than the content of our national character)
One of the questions that has perplexed friend and foe alike is the disproportionate attention that Jews have received for our ability to innovate beyond our small numbers.
Yet if you look at any detergent, the actual cleaning ingredient is tiny and the rest is inert matter. Same with medicines. We are a tiny people who happen to have been a vehicle to administer some inspirational and powerful medicine when humanity’s moral health was in question and defined by child sacrifice and great empires enslaving the helpless.
And God and our prophets let us have it when we failed our own standards, knocking down our own towers and temples of vanity.
So for 2,000 we have been a global people, speaking many languages, preserving our particular memory of enslavement in ancient Egypt yet remembering its universal moral implications. And this has made us the multi-lingual nudniks of history, since we just had a hard time accepting the false Gods of stone or those who ruled with an iron fist anywhere on earth.
We always knew that with a history like ours, comes a responsibility to honor a heritage and set of values—not only for ourselves but for everyone.
When you are down and out of history, as sometimes we have been, it’s hard to assert a enlightening moral message or role, even if the earth is surrounded by darkness. But we are the luckiest generation ever of Jews who have graced the planet. We are no longer slaves. We are free.
We have an independent Jewish state. We have riches earned not through the booty of war but the labor of our hands, the quickness of our minds and by the values of our people.
Only a global, multilingual people can undo the legacy of Babel. Our values, if practiced on a global scale, can tower above greed and selfishness. But only if we act with some degree of unity. Rabid individualism undermines Peoplehood, so our goal is often to remind ourselves and humanity itself of the importance of restoring a balance between the individual and the collective.
In the dark moments of human and Jewish history, we acted with some degree of unity by lighting candles in our homes at particular times, Shabbat and holidays. These were coordinated private acts, for the most part. It kept a spark alive but it also kept it shining inwards.
It is time to assert public acts, globally and in different languages, which push back greed and selfishness and provide a different kind of light to the world.
Those of us who were fortunate to be swept up in the global, public movement for the liberation of Jews from the former Soviet Union, Ethiopia, Yemen and elsewhere felt the currents of history go our way by sheer persistence and coordinated action.
There is so much concern that this new generation of young Jews barely knows how to light Shabbat candles, and all that it represents from a particularistic point of view.
But the lights that the Jewish people are used to kindling are not for our own benefit only; if only we teach that to our young people. Each positive act done with Jews and others reverberates beyond its actual goodness when it is done in coordination and in the service of great or large ideas.
The purpose of the Jewish People—the essence of Jewish Peoplehood, to answer Ezra’s and Moti’s question– is to be an on-going, distinct catalyst for the advancement and evolution of morality in civilization.
Only global, collective action can save the planet from global warming to nuclear annihilation.
Only global, collective action can feed the hungry, comfort the widow and take in the orphan and make a systemic impact rather than only an individual one.
Global collective moral action in a global world magically connected digitally should be our trademark.
If we can do it on small things, like getting a Prisoner of Zion out of solitary confinement, the perhaps the world can act collectively to cut carbon emissions radically before it is too late or prevent genocides.
There is no more room for rebooting humanity; this is it. Either we understand our collective responsibility or the gig is up.
This is the spirit behind naming Cheshvan global Jewish Social Action Month; this is an idea in action that can help make the Jewish People great, even though our numbers have yet to match the stars in the sky or the sands in the seas.
What is the secret of our immortality? asks Mark Twain.
It is collective memory in the service of collective moral action on ideas that are not only relevant for the physical well-being of our people, but of the planet itself.
And maybe, just maybe, the Angels can say to God that creation was worth the effort.