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For Your Shabbat Table

Teddy Bear or Eagle: America, What Are You?

This country was founded, settled, developed, defined and furthered by people who left their homes for the unknown. Whether or not they were religious (in the conventional sense) is, and will continue to be, hotly debated by those with agendas. What is unarguable is that the men and women who founded this country were risk-takers, and inherent in risk is belief. To put it in other words, they were believers.

Appropriately, the symbol of the fledgling country became the eagle: Biblical metaphor for mercy and redemption: majestic, fair, feisty and magnanimous in our language. One of the presidents who personified the country’s ethos, so well that his face was etched on a big rock, was Teddy Roosevelt. Incongruously almost, his legacy became a cuddly, harmless, lovably ineffectual: the teddy bear.

Not only Teddy, but the One to Whom this nation pledges that their republic is under, has softened into someone to whom we intone stanzas and sing that he bless us. We thank Him for the bounty of this great land. He occupies a sacred place along with honor, flag and, well, apple pie.

He is not to make us uncomfortable. He is not to demand how we dress, what we refrain from eating, the content of our entertainment, what we teach our children. He is not to stick out awkwardly: at odds with whatever we deem appropriate. He is created in our image. We love him. He is our Teddy Bear.

The first Biblically recorded message from G-d to Abraham is “Go, for yourself, from your land, your father’s home your birthplace to the land which I will show you”. No comfort zones allowed. Leave them and only then can you achieve everything I have in store for you, everything of which you are capable. Only by stepping outside yourself can you grow -- and can I be your God. This, to a man who from childhood on – for over seventy years -- defied the mores of the corrupted society and a despotic tyrant who called himself god. He had been threatened with death if he did not repudiate his ill-advised beliefs; he did not waver. Still, he was told Go!, leave everything familiar and comfortable.

Their gods are of silver and stone, they have eyes that do not see and ears that do not hear, mocked the psalmist. Not necessarily did he refer to idols from Sunday-school coloring books. A god who makes me feel warm and protected is nothing more than an abstract materialism: a warm place to go, home and hearth. For that matter a god who tells you to go is nothing more than an adventurer, if it is only adventure and change of scenery you are after. But when G-d tells us to leave our laurels of yesterday’s accomplishment and take on the new he is really telling us to be alive today.

And, (paradoxically, perhaps) he adds that this will be good for you, you will become wealthy, prosperous and numerous. Not comfortable: good.

Teddy bears are good; for kids; at the boys’ third birthday we throw candy at him and give him honey in the shape of the Aleph-Bet because the words of Torah are sweet. But then we move him on to meat and potatoes: study of these words “for they are our lives and the length of our days”. What is sweet at three, if allowed to linger will turn sacchariny at twenty-three -- and have fostered cavities of decay in the soul.

Feeling warm and comfortable is not bad; it only becomes debilitating when it is pursued as a goal.

Avinu Shebashamayim - Our God in Heaven.
The majesty of the eternal calls and resonates in a soul,
a spark of that majesty sent to unfurl the majesty inherent in life on earth.
To bring the majesty of heaven down to earth.
Heaven: something greater than the comfortable and familiar. The eagle soars there.
The symbol of America: a nation under.

Recognizing our Creaor

The fires are not yet out,
the juries are not yet in. 
But the shock is over,
the counting and rebuilding has begun. 
Ironic that it happens around the parsha of the flood? 
What difference a destruction
from a wall of water or wall of fire? 
They both begin, run their course and die. 
They are both powerful and weak:
depending on circumstance and timing.  

But not when you’re in the path of a wildfire. 
If foxholes don’t tolerate atheists
do forest fires allow homage to the gods of water?
We’re always in the middle of a crisis:
flood, fire, no money, bad health. 
And crisis means we don’t see a way out. 
The fire is going to be here in ten minutes.  RUN!! 
And it was in the middle of crises that a little boy stood
and thought that every crisis passes and every power wanes. 
Except the power that puts all powers into motion and controls them all. 
He had no name for this power and no books or people spoke of him. 
But he loved this power and revered it
and couldn’t stand seeing people consumed by crisis
deifying and editorializing powers
that will be out of the headlines in a week. 
This power didn’t acknowledge the little boy. 
The little boy grew and grew. 
He never stopped ridiculing people who get all excited by power,
their own or someone else’s. 
Powerful people didn’t like this young man and tried to silence him. 
He kept on ridiculing them and the editorials that glorified power.
He kept on with his abstract power that gives power to everything
– The All-Powerful -- and therefore is the only power. 

He became an old man. 
A powerful man sentenced him to die by fire
but the fire refused to consume him. 
Then the power spoke to him. 
It told him to leave everything familiar. 
Told him to leave a comfort zone. 
The man in his seventies, who had been defying family and society since he was three years old, was told to leave his comfort zone. 
That is how the All-Powerful, now known as the Almighty, sees things.
With that begins next week’s parsha and the story of Abraham,
father of a people and tradition that recognizes no power in the face of fire,
be they fires of the Inquisition or pirates of the high sea. 
And this tradition fed a world of billions:
starving and scared in the face of powers and the powerful:
this tradition fed them the knowledge
that there is no power but Him
and no thing to fear but Him Himself. 
So what if they don’t always get the words right!
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