I went to a talk Rabbi Shlomo Riskin gave shortly after he made aliyah in 1983 or 84. He compared Shalom Achshav, Peace Now, with Moshiach Achshav, Moshiach Now, and said they were both equally unrealistic. The entire Jewish people, he pointed out, pray for both peace and redemption three times every day, as we have for almost 2,000 years! Of course, we all desperately want both and, to say even more, we all have faith, emunah, that we will, eventually, reach both of these goals. The unrealistic element is expecting it to be instant, as if chanting, protests/rallies, signs and slogans, or even just prayer, were all it takes.
For better or worse, we live in an instant society. Coffee, oatmeal, even “Instant Karma” is available for the asking. Who doesn’t dream of short-circuiting the slow, often painful and frustrating process of hard work, incremental-at-best-with-frequent-downturns progress, by winning the lottery? Signing up for an online workshop, or maybe a weekend at Esalen should be all it takes to bring eternal bliss, right? A new haircut and the right clothes, some steroid supplements and a lifetime of sex is right around the corner. Hope and change, occupy whoever you think has your share of the pie, Save the Chipmunks and,(again fill in your own blank)-lives matter. Add a couple of what I grew up calling number or pound signs, now called “hashtags” to be ‘with it’ and ‘in the know’ and you, too, are not just a social-justice/peace/Disneyland-For-All warrior, but a visionary and, if you go viral, the latest celebrity, too!
The dream and fantasy factory is thriving, thank you very much. It operates world-wide and with ‘just a little’ luck, you can be next! Hard work is just so…..yesterday.
Like many of my vintage, I spent summers in the 1950s and 60s at Jewish summer camps where I developed a love for folk music. Although I was in Denver, these were the years where the musical menu came straight from the summer camps in the Catskills which were among the very few employment possibilities for many artists who were blacklisted during these McCarthy years. Pete Seeger and his disciples were prominent and set the tone for many of these songs. A favorite was “Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream”, whose message is that “they”, whoever “they” might be, “decided to put an end to war”.
A beautiful fantasy, but oh so naive. Like many “progressive” myths, it presupposes there is an evil cabal-of-the-powerful who make all the decisions for everyone. Whatever “they” decide will be done. (Interesting how the far right and far left converge in this conspiracy fantasy/theory…) It presupposes unanimity among this group which, presumably, represents every continent and nation on earth. If only they’ll be nice, just this once….. When you think about it, this “they” comes to resemble what we call God–all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise, all-benign. Curious, also, how this fantasy converges with John Lennon’s famous and ubiquitous “Imagine”, an anthem to “imagine there’s no god…”. Both nightmares envision simple, instant change to an idealized paradise-on-earth. Both present an impossible fantasy with the deceptive expectation that its instant achievement is simple.
A major feature of traditional Judaism is repetition. It annoys the hell out of some people. “I fasted last year!” “I gave tzedakah back in 1997!” “I said the Shema when I was fifteen!” “Didn’t I just put those tefillin on yesterday?” “We’ve already read the entire Torah every single year! How about a new book to serialize?”
Reality, however, much more resembles our traditional process. Repeating the Shema twice a day, the Amida three times, say it all again the next day and the next. Every seven days is Shabbat and we return to the next Torah reading, starting again on Simchat Torah for yet another year. The months’ cycle, Rosh Chodesh, the periodic holiday, all in the yearly cycle. Then we have the Shmitta (Sabbatical) cycle of seven years, the Yovel (Jubilee) of fifty years, turning over and over and over again.
With hard work, dedication and no little good fortune, we can make small refinements each time every repetition of each cycle, tefilla (prayer service), daily, weekly, yearly… We can anticipate missteps and failures along the way, but, still, we can try to transform a static circle into a dynamic spiral. Not instantly, but eventually we can, together, reach the goal. Galut (exile) appears to be fading as Geula (Redemption) shimmers but solidifies in an ever-closing distance.
Of course we want everything NOW–we’re still children in many ways. But we pray for במהרה בימינו (Bim’heyra B’Yameinu) speedily, in our days. I’ll be more than happy for that.