We are challenged to restore our nation to a unified people who can accept our differences and who support this great endeavor, democracy. For guidance, we can look to the sages from the third century CE (common era) , who shared their wisdom in a compilation called, “Pirke Avot” (Ethics of the Fathers). Facing ethical challenges even then, these sages reassure us, saying, “It is not incumbent upon you to finish the work, but neither are you to free to withdraw from it,” (Pirke Avot 2:21). You may not finish the task, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start.
This “work” of restoring our nation has several dimensions: spiritual, ethical and physical. The spiritual dimension leads our hearts to seek meaning in our lives. The ethical dimension roots this meaning between human beings. The physical dimension informs our actions. Absent spiritual and ethical dimensions can lead to angry and destructive behavior. As a result small mindedness is aroused that further creates obstacles for engaging meaningfully with others. We must counter this small mindedness with expansive thinking and doing.
The intent and actions of every human being matter. And once again, “We, the people…” – the citizens (as President Obama so eloquently and passionately reminded us tonight), are each called upon to become a dugma ishit (a personal example). Through purposeful action, we follow the teaching of our sages, “Say little and do much” (Pirkei Avot 1:15). With a dugma ishit mindset of accountability, even the smallest exemplary action can make a difference. And hope, Tikvah, reveals itself as an unwavering belief in the potential of every human being to help repair what is broken.
We begin by respecting the value of every human being – regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation – even if the choices they make differ from those we ourselves might make. May compassion and generosity, kindness and the pursuit of righteousness be the sacred foundation upon which we build family, community, and nation. In the absence of these great values, we will not be at our best. Instead, we will have politics and the pursuit of power for one’s own gain. Our very humanity will be at risk. The sage, Hillel, guides us, saying, “In a place where there is no humanity [or when humanity is threatened], strive to be human.”
May our spirit, ethics and actions keep our hearts open to one another, bring healing, hope and unity to this great nation. May the elected officials honor the efforts of those who preceded them, even as they prepare to write the next chapter in our history. And, may they and we serve in a manner that elevates us all.
Nina J. Mizrahi, Community Rabbi