Is The United States, “All For One” or “None For All”, and If The Latter Do We Deserve To Be A Country?

This Saturday night as soon as Shabbat ends, we begin a very special celebration in the Jewish world. Some very few (those with Plotkin blood) will celebrate my Jewish birthday, while the many will observe the birthday of the Torah. It was on the sixth of Sivan standing at the foot of Mount Sinai some 3400 years ago, that the Jewish people received the greatest gift of all time, the Torah. Enjoy some blintzes, cheesecake and ice cream.

There is a Jewish legend that explains how we merited receiving the Torah. It seems that like a young writer going from publisher to publisher asking to have his/her manuscript accepted for publication, God went from nation to nation asking the people to receive and accept His Torah. Invariably the leadership would ask God one question.

“What is in it?”

The dialogue went something like this: God would respond,” It says, ‘thou shall not steal.’

‘Not steal!!, ridiculous we are plunderers, that is how we make our living. Thanks, but no thanks. Get out of here before someone hears such an idiotic idea.”’

God then went to the next nation and after being asked the usual question, responded, “Thou shall not murder.”

“Not murder, ridiculous. We have no skills other than killing, at which we are quite proficient and make a good living. Thanks, but no thanks. Get out of here before someone hears such a ludicrous idea and tries to undermine our economy”.

God went to every nation in the world only to repeat some version of the above dialogue. Finally, he went to one of the smallest nations of the world, the Jews and offered them a gift of a tablet that contained his Torah. The Jews asked how much it was, and God said free, so the Jews said, “ok we’ll take two.” (Please excuse my inner Mel Brooks, I couldn’t help myself)

The legend really said that after God made the offer of the Torah to the Jews, they immediately responded, “Naashe venishma, we will do it all, now tell us what is in it”.

With that faithful and trusting response God awarded the Torah to the Jews.

Since being a child and first hearing this midrash, I have always felt a kinship to the Jewish people that I was fortunate enough to be born into. We were different than the rest of the world. Not necessarily always better, but different in that we had a unifying code that was greater than any individual, and we were willing to sacrifice a lot of personal autonomy for far reaching values that unified us as a people even when we did not agree or behave exactly the same.

Our individual needs or wants were important but never more important than the needs of the whole. In our history we were never stronger than when we shared those overriding values and never weaker than when we abandoned them in pursuit of parochial rewards.

In the somewhat antiquated theology of the Bible, when the Jewish people followed the Torah and the will of God they were rewarded with peace and prosperity on their land, but when they did not, they were attacked and in the extreme they were expelled from their land.

The Bible was saying that having your independent country was always going to be conditional. You would have it when you deserved it, but you could lose it if you abandoned the very values that earned you the right to that nation. That was the power of Naashe venishma, we will do and then we will hear. A country deserves to exist when its people put aside their individual needs and commit to the values and the security that comes from observing those values.

Last week we again observed the nightmare of our collective failure to protect our children. Is there a societal value greater than preserving the safety and wellbeing of our youngest and most defenseless population, and if we fail as we continue to do, do we still merit having a country?

There is no agreed upon “Torah” for how to maintain the safety of our children. Everyone has a different idea on how to safeguard the children in school, or the shoppers in Buffalo, or the worshippers in synagogues and churches. Some want more guns; some want no guns. Some want restrictions on the type of guns available for sale and others want unlimited access. Some call it an obscenity and others a cherished constitutional right.

I call what we need, “Seichel”, common sense wisdom.

We will not agree on all the details, but we must agree that steps need be taken to protect our society before we lose the right and the ability to call this a nation. The words of the Torah are finite and fixed but the thousands of volumes of commentary on the Torah speak to the fact that there are multiple interpretations of Torah, but that doesn’t mean that in the greater picture we don’t share a common perspective.

If we deserve to remain a country then we have to find a way to reach commonality, to attain a compromise that each side gives in on in part, so that we don’t lose sight of why we are here and why we deserve to continue to be here.

An overwhelming majority of the country wants background checks on gun purchases, and red flag laws that allows governmental agents to temporarily confiscate a gun when there is a suspicion of mental illness. The guns are immediately returned if the person is mentally competent to own that gun. There are states where 18 year olds can buy guns and assault rifles but are too young to buy Sudafed or a beer, but in some states 18 year old can buy an assault weapon. Can we not start here with these widely agreed upon changes?

These changes will not stop all such attacks and there are many other preventative and protective measures that can take place, but can we not at lest start with the measures that the majority of the country agree to?

Can we not at least begin the process of coming together to assert that we are a country that cares for others, especially the young, the weak, and the oppressed?

If the answer is no, you can’t infringe on our rights even to save children, do we even deserve to have a country?

As always please share with friends who will agree or disagree and anyone who wants to join the blog email me ravpp1@gmail.com with you full name and email.

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Rabbi Paul Plotkin

I am a retired Conservative Rabbi. I was a pulpit Rabbi for 40 years. I supervise a chain of kosher Delis called Ben's .