Divre Harav – October/17

[Rabban Gamliel says,] “Be wary of the authorities, for they get friendly with a person only when it serves their needs. They look like friends when it is to their benefit, but they do not stand by a person in an hour of need.” Pirke Avot 2:3

By nature, I am not a cynical person. I am trusting, some might say naïve, and always believe the best of individual, institutions, business, and corporations. I am the polar opposite of Rabban Gamliel. He lived in the 2nd century under an oppressive totalitarian Roman government. He had no reason to trust that the authorities were making decisions in his best interest. I live in a representative democracy which for 241 years and counting is evolving into a country which honors and protects each of its citizens. I do not deny that our country has not always gotten it right. Its record of protecting non-white and non-Christian residents is not spotless. But I believe that the trajectory is headed in the right direction.

It seems to me that this is the proper Jewish approach. The world is not perfect but each generation can bring it closer to where it ought to be. And in each generation there are astoundingly good people whose merit saves the world. We call them the Lamed-Vav’niks, the 36 righteous people upon whom the existence of the world depends.

Happiness surveys show that traditionally religious people are happier than purely secular people. This is typically ascribed to the fact that religions which believe in a messianic era or an end-of-times are inherently optimistic, believing that it is possible to achieve perfection of human nature. Secular people pride themselves on realism and are more likely to see no reason that human nature or society is improving. When you believe that you are stuck in an infinite destructive loop, there is no reason to be happy. When you believe that things will get better, you have reason to be happy.

Therefore, I am proud of my country and the way that it stands by its citizens in their time of need, as through welfare and healthcare programs, the work of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or the life saving actions of the National Guard and the Coast Guard. I embrace my non-cynical naïveté and continually search for and see the good in everything and everyone.

Hebrew Words of the Month:

  • Lamed-Vav – The Hebrew letters which stand for the numbers 30 and 6, respectively.
  • Emunah – faith
  • Amen – I agree (from the same root as emunah)
  • Imun – Training, Coaching. Also the name of a much loved but discontinued USCJ program to teach synagogue skills such as Torah/Haftarah reading and leading services to lay leaders.
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