What Are We Building?

In 2014, the Pew center found that 55 percent of Americans say that they pray every day.  That’s good.  I find myself praying a lot recently too.

But prayer can mean different things.  In Jewish tradition, prayer is not only a petitional exercise, asking God for the things we cannot deliver for ourselves.  Prayer is also a values-clarification exercise, a reminder of what really matters and what doesn’t.

In chapter 19 of the book of Leviticus, each of us are enjoined to strive for holiness in our lives and together to create a holy society.  The commandments here demand of us not simply fastidiousness in our personal behavior, but also describes how we are to interact with each other.  In defining for us what constitutes holy behavior, they also define how we build a good society.

When you reap the harvest of your land, you must leave unharvested the edges of the field and you may not gather in the gleanings that fall to the ground as you reap.  They must be left for the poor and the stranger.

You shall not steal; neither shall you deal falsely or lie to one another.  You shall not swear falsely.

You shall not oppress your neighbor nor rob him; you shall not delay in paying the wages of a hired worker.

You shall not curse the deaf, nor place a stumbling block before the blind.  You shall not commit unrighteousness in judgment, neither favoring the poor or the mighty.

You shall not go around as a gossip or bearer of tales.  You shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.  You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall offer rebuke.

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

And if a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong.  The stranger that sojourns with you shall be as the home-born among you, and you shall love him as yourself. (Lev. 19:9-34)

Essentially, a holy society is one where we care for the poor and the vulnerable.  A holy society is one where we tell each other the truth.  A holy society is one where we are fair and honest, and we do not abuse or take advantage of each other.  A holy society is one where we make it easier for those who have a difficult journey, and see all as equal before the law.

A holy society is one where we guard not simply each other’s physical security, but also our emotional well-being.  A holy society is one where the stranger is made to feel safe and secure.  A holy society is one where we open our hearts to each other, where we feel each other’s pain, and where we suffer when others are suffering.

Think about where we are as a society at the end of 2017.  How wide is the gap between the society we were asked to create and the society we have created for ourselves?  More importantly, as we think about the direction the leaders of our country want to take us, are their proposals leading us toward a holy society or will their proposals make that gap even wider?

These are not partisan questions.  To me these are questions of fundamental morality.  I want our country to be a holy society.  And I am blessed to witness extraordinary acts of holiness by members of our community every day.  Members of my community volunteer to help care for the homeless and feed the hungry and ease the way of the poor.  Members of my community rally to help children coming into adulthood from foster homes.  Members of my community run and march to help find cures to pernicious disease.  Members of my community work to build bonds of understanding and friendship with people of different ethnic backgrounds and religious faiths.

But it is also important to demand that our national leaders ask themselves if each vote they take is helping to build our country into a holier society.  What are the foundational values and principles on which they are building their policies?

Do their proposals help the poor and the vulnerable?  Do they make it easier for the average person to get a quality education?  Do they make it easier for them to get care when they are sick?  Do they champion the humanity of the worker?  Do they make our society more fair and just, more caring and humane?

Do we, as a society, condone those who are not honest with us?  Are we ignoring the suffering of the Other?  Are we welcoming the stranger? Are we, as individuals, carrying hatred for each other in our hearts?

It is up to us to decide what kind of a society we want America to be. We must cultivate enough personal humility to admit where we fall short of our ideals, but we must also demand, of ourselves and of our leaders, that we do everything we can to build a society that is just, compassionate, and holy.

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