As we prepare this message, the fireworks are coloring the sky and we’re still donning our red, white and blue clothes to remind ourselves of the special nature of this day. This year, while we celebrate America’s independence we are also mindful of this great reckoning happening in our midst.
The civil rights leader, Vincent Harding, back in 2007 wrote an essay in which he posed questions that are worthy of our consideration still today:
What is the America that we dream, that we hope for, that we vow to help bring into being?”
To whom do we think America belongs, and who has the essential responsibility for its future?
What shall [we] do with the idea of an America in process, an America that is not a finished, sharp-edged block of white granite but is instead a malleable, multicolored gift of clay; still seeking, taking, giving shape, purpose, and direction?
In the Torah portion that we read this Shabbat, Hukkat Balak, we read about Moshe losing his patience with our ancestors, striking the rock, falling on his face, and then calling the People rebels. It seems that Moshe lost his ability to take the long view required to help the People envision a better future. Without a long view, he wouldn’t be able to help the others hold onto hope and faith that they could and eventually would reach their Promised Land.
These questions and reminders should be helpful to us: it will take work again (it always does) but whether we’re dreaming of a better America or better days to come once this pandemic is over… let us all aspire to take the long view, to ask ourselves big questions this weekend, and let us remind ourselves of the the message of Rabbi Tarfon in Pirke Avot:
It is not our responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, but we are not free to desist from it either.
Happy Independence Day, America, and may we all be engaged in the work of becoming.