Tshuva as rebirth

We often speak of Tshuvah, returning, as if it’s no big deal, easy to do.  Exclude another “weekday” activity on Shabbat, restrict our diets a little more.  Donate more money to your synagogue or Jewish school.  We’re happy, God’s happy and it didn’t even require that much extra work!  If only it were that effortless….

In the fall, we’ll start looking over the rules, halachot, of tshuvah in preparation for the Yomim Noraim.  We’ll remind ourselves that true tshuvah requires analysis and honest evaluation of our behavior, serious decisions, changed behavior and commitment to a long term effort.  But now, in the beginning of spring, recently exulting in a sense of Pesach freedom, we tend to emulate Alfred E Neuman’s “What, me worry?”.

If it’s difficult for an individual to change, imagine how much harder it is for an entire nation to change directions.  Our model, of course, is the pagan city-state of Nineveh in the time of Jonah.  Told that they faced total annihilation unless they gave up their savage ways, rather, by going against the “human nature response” of denial and debate, they undertake an immediate revolution and totally redeem their culture.

I’m struck that in the United States, slightly less than four years away from the worst economic meltdown in recent memory, mindless consumerism continues to dominate.  With a national election coming up, the conversation centers on celebrities and popular entertainment.  Faced with economic default, faced with a terrorist nation intent on acquiring nuclear arms, we respond with the President performing on late night comedy television and the opposition Republicans bickering among themselves as to who is a “true conservative”.  Rather than a contest of ideas and ideals, it’s a fund-raising contest.  I don’t have much hope here.

On the other hand, Israel has undergone a quiet transformation, forced after a number of years’ experiences to make a reality check.  It wasn’t long ago that the left was a significant voice in Israeli politics.  There was sufficient public support for what turned into a disastrous military withdrawal from southern Lebanon and and entire Jewish evacuation, self-inflicted ethnic cleansing, from Gaza.  We were ready, obviously over-eager, to engage our enemies in civilized discussion and negotiation.  A sizable portion of Israelis were willing to give up our historic heartland, the land of Avraham, Yitzchak, Ya’akov, Sara, Rivka, Leah and Rachel, in order to live in peace.

What happened, of course, had nothing to do with our idealism and dreams.  Rather, we’ve had rockets rain on Israel.  And rather than “the world seeing what we’re up against”, we’ve only faced international demands for even more unilateral retreat.

But something else has happened.  Idealistic and peace-longing as ever, Israelis have come to realize that we must rely on ourselves.  In fact, the Israeli public seems significantly in front of its government.

Another label for Tshuvah is, perhaps, learning from mistakes.  It’s heartening to see Israel awakening from illusory dreaming.  I only pray that the United States, as well as Europe, also begins this process.

The Torah portion in the diaspora, Tazriah/Metzora, begins by discussing the spiritual ramifications of birth.  We need to focus on rebirth.

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