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Rabbi David Baum's Blog

01/27/2017 12:52:46 PM


Getting to Work

I once heard an interesting story about the famous rabbi, Abraham Joshua Heschel.  He once walked into a classroom full of rabbinical students.  He sat down in the front of the class, and a silence overtook the room as the students awaited the words of wisdom that would come out of Professor Heschel's mouth.  It was at that point that he lifted up his arms and exclaimed loudly:  "A great miracle occurred today!"  A student looked at him with a puzzled look and asked him what everyone else was wondering:  "Rabbi Heschel - what happened?"  Rabbi Heschel exclaimed, "The sun came out again!"  His message was simple - we must continue to be amazed with the everyday occurrences that we experience.  The sun coming out again is a miracle, and in our daily prayers, we place on emphasis on the daily miracles that we encounter.  Tomorrow, we will experience a miracle of our democracy:  the peaceful transfer of power from the president and representative of one party, to the president and representative of the opposing party.  I feel that this peaceful transfer of power is something we often times take for granted, and yet, we must never forget that it is truly a miraculous moment, regardless of which candidate you may have voted and supported. 


Tomorrow, we enter into the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States of America, eight years after our current president.  Eight years ago, I was a rabbinic intern at the University of Florida Hillel, and I was asked to write an article for the local student run Jewish newspaper on the inauguration of President Barack Obama.  As I re-read these words this week, I realized how relevant these words were today.  To summarize my article, I noted that candidate Obama was criticized for being a messianic like figure, and some said that his voters expected him to change everything himself, like the messiah.  In some ways, we might be able to say the same things today about PEOTUS Donald Trump.  Supporters of both candidates wanted drastic change - and this is the person whom they hired to bring about this change.   But I asked myself, what would it actually look like if the real Mashiach came? 


There are many different opinions as to how the world will look like after the messiah comes, but one of them struck me as relevant to our time and I want to share it with you. Maimonides, the famous Medieval Rabbi, doctor and philosopher, described the Messianic time in the following way:


Nothing will change in the Messianic age, however, except that Jews will regain their independence. Rich and poor, strong and weak, will still exist. However it will be very easy for people to make a living, and with very little effort they will be able to accomplish very much.... it will be a time when the number of wise men will increase.... war shall not exist, and nation shall no longer lift up sword against nation.... The Messianic age will be highlighted by a community of the righteous and dominated by goodness and wisdom.


I think that Maimonides reveals a more realistic worldview that puts responsibility on our human shoulders. Messianic times will be a part of our natural world, not a supernatural event, and its success is dependent upon our actions.


In the Ethics of Our Fathers, the Rabbis write, "It is not upon us to finish the work, nor can we desist from it." This tells us that the work is considerable and we may not be able to finish it, but just because we cannot finish does not mean that we should not do the work that is needed in order to make sure that our society, our larger community, will be dominated by goodness and wisdom.


None of our Presidents, past, present or future, should be looked at as actual messiahs.  They cannot lift their hands and take our problems away, rather, it is up to us to work for an age dominated by goodness and wisdom.


I ended my article with the following words: 


"Will we be the "greatest generation" or will we fall back into what is comfortable? The answer depends on our actions today: the day after...Change will not happen without all of us working for it, and yes, we can change. Americans, today is the first day of the rest of our lives: let's go to work."


In our parashah this week, we are introduced to the closest person to the messiah that we as Jews have known:  Moses.  As we read through the parashah, we realize that even the great Moses knows that he cannot save his people alone.  He brings his brother Aaron on to speak for him, he looks to God for guidance, and he involves each Israelite household to help free themselves.  Whether you are depressed or elated, the fact remains, change happens through us, through you.  And so, I will end with the same sentence I ended my reflection on the last inauguration: Americans, today is the first day of the rest of our lives: let's go to work.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi David Baum

Thu, April 18 2019 13 Nisan 5779