Not my words but my father's Rabbi Dr Andrew Goldstein, Northwood & Pinner Liberal Synagogue's Emeritus Rabbi at our Civic Service this Shabbat
A repeated refrain in our Bible readings was "Every one who excels in ability and everybody whose spirit and heart moves them...." but what about the people who had no ability, even though keen? Was their contribution to the work of building the sanctuary or the Temple no less worthy? Of course it needed a Betzalel or a Hiram to produce a beautiful structure, fitting to be the House of God, inspiring in the people the urge to worship God. But what about those with no artistic ability?
I suspect it is a modern question, although I have no doubt that, way back then, there were always individuals frustrated by the desire to be involved in the higher tasks of life, be it in artistic endeavour, leadership roles or place in society, but seemingly lacking the talent. But maybe only in modern times do we ask what is fair and how can we help those with less obvious ability achieve in life the same as the geniuses or, to use a yiddish phrase, the mazaldik, the lucky ones. The past two or three or four generations it has bothered educationalists, political theorists and socially aware questioners. The vocabulary of earnest discourse includes words and concepts such as equality, dumbing down, positive discrimination and competition.
I will leave the politicians, journalists and sociologists here to resolve the problem in the best interest of society and of all individuals concerned, but just recall an ancient rabbinic observation: " We forge many coins with one seal, every one is identical, but God has stamped all human beings with the seal of Adam, the first human, yet none is alike. Therefore one must say: 'the world was created for my sake'" (Mishna San 4:5). We all have individual worth and any just society must take this into account.
But if we cannot honestly claim we all have the same inherent artistic abilities, we might say that we have been granted the same possibility of being keen, of being enthusiastic, of having a heart and soul moved to contribute to the good of society, of volunteering our time or our money. Observation sadly shows that this too is not correct, though I suspect its not in our genes, but in our upbringing. Some parents will show their children, teach their children to be givers, volunteers, doers; others will demonstrate the way of receivers only, or of passive onlookers, never willing to get involved. It is the way in politics, it is the way in schools, it is the way in synagogue and other religious organisations. Those of us who are leaders bemoan the fact, and spend much energy trying to change the situation. All of us must look with envy at the situation described in the Torah, in the Book of Exodus and Leviticus, where it depicts Moses appealing for materials to build the sanctuary and he is overwhelmed and has to asked the people to stop giving...we already have too much...you are too keen, too generous. Somewhere along the line I suspect there was a clever PR person selectively telling the story to glorify the Israelite people. And yet, as the volunteering at last summers Olympics showed us...if it’s the right project, presented in the right way...people are keen to give of themselves and to get involved. So maybe the challenge some-times is with the leaders not the people.
The death this week of Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, reminds us of the latest attempt to reform a society to give greater fairness to all. Sadly like so many such attempts it will be proved to have been a failure, maybe leading to greater suffering in the short term for many. His reign certainty led to a huge increase in anti-Semitism in a country where previously it was not a problem. But as we in this country struggle with our finances, we too know the difficulty of creating the ideal society all of our manifestos have in their dreams
So if this proves ever difficult...what about our individual, our own dreams of the perfect world, or rather the life for ourselves that combines the best of values. I think the ancient blessing of the New Month we included in our Torah Service describes, from a Jewish point of view, the most noble and righteous list of aspirations. Please God it comes true for us...it would create a truly blessed and sane society if the list of aspirations became universal.
"Grant to each of us...a long life...but this alone is not always a blessing...for it needs to be a life of welfare, of health...a life lived in peace...if it is to be blessed. Just think of those around the world who have one element without the others; not so clever. And then, the blessing is honest (and I am not ashamed to say Jewish) in that it acknowledges it must include prosperity....no blessing of poverty in our dreams. Admit it, who would find reasonable prosperity a curse? ...but then this is not of any worth unless it is balanced by the next aspiration: a life guided by conscience, unmarred by shame or self-reproach. Money is the root of all evils, if gained by illegal or unjust means, or if, in the end it makes you unhappy.
And again...all of these blessings, in Jewish terms, not adding up unless your dream is for a life exalted by love of Torah.....of religious teachings...a knowledge of the ethical underpinnings of all truly blessed and praiseworthy lives. And all is included in that wonderful closing phrase...a life in which the longings of our hearts may be fulfilled for good.
We blessed the new month of Nisan, the month of spring; and though snow has been forecast for Monday, spring will come with its new possibilities and beauty. May the new month and our festivals of Pesach and Easter bring you joy and inspiration, and a new heart and spirit for all the months to come.