Weekly Sermon

Weekly Sermon

CHUKAT/BALAK JULY 4th 5780

It’s easy to be cynical about America. The media has made us wince at terms like, “Coronavirus” or “spike” or “social distancing.” Just look at the attempts to “defund the police” that have only made gun sales surge and we feel less safe. Look at the fake news, the high unemployment, the sudden increase in crime, and the lies that are so rampant and it’s easy to be cynical about America today.

But today is July 4th—the birthday of America. Let’s take some time to think about some of the special things that make America unique: 

          Only in America......can a pizza get to your house faster than an ambulance.

          Only in America......are there handicap parking places in front of a skating rink.

          Only in America......do drugstores make the sick walk all the way to the back of the store to get their prescriptions, while healthy people can buy cigarettes at the front.

          Only in America......do people order double cheeseburgers, large fries, and a diet coke.

          Only in America......do we leave cars worth tens of thousands of dollars in the driveway and put our useless junk in the garage.

          Here’s my favorite: Only in America......do they have drive-up ATM machines with Braille lettering.

          Only in America…could an African American raised by a poor single mother become president.

          Only in America…could we go from 25,000 to 6 million Jews—becoming the largest Jewish community in the world in just a century and in the process save Jewish life from vanishing from persecutions, pogroms and Hitler’s ovens.

I believe—as Michel Medved puts it—that “this is the greatest country on Gd’s green earth.” With all its imperfections, the birthday of America is a day that we Jews ought to celebrate with joy and gratitude. Understand that the glory of America is that—despite its imperfections—it eventually learns from its mistakes and becomes better. As it did with freeing the slaves in the Civil War, recognizing the right of women to vote—ratified 100 years ago this summer, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, etc. 

Despite some embarrassing realities, America remains the hope and promise of the world. It’s one of the only countries where—when a ruling party is voted out of office—the transition proceeds peacefully. It’s the only country where most people are begging to get in and so few leave. That’s why, when the Russian Communists in took away my grandfather’s business and home, he came to America with his brother and they worked hard and to bring over the entire extended family. They didn’t try to get to France or Italy or England. America was the country with the promise of freedom and prosperity.

As Jews, we must never forget that America welcomed Jews when no one else would have us. We were cast out of England, France, Spain and Portugal. The Inquisition followed us to South and Central America. But in the 17th and 18th centuries, the Colonies of North America gave us a safe haven. Yes, it wasn’t perfect, and we had to fight for equal rights—as did other groups—but we did achieve them.

This is part of why I think America is a holy country. In fact—besides Israel—I think America is Gd’s country. I was asked in the wake of the terror attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburg, “Could the Holocaust happen in America? After all, Germany was the most cultured society.”

My response was, “A terror attack could happen anywhere, but what happened in Nazi Germany could never happen here because our diversity. If one group loses its freedom all will feel threatened—and that’s what the George Floyd demonstrations were all about until they were infiltrated by a few violent extremists.  

My friends, we don’t appreciate enough the greatness of this holy country. Why is America holy? America is a microcosm of the world Gd created. It is populated by people from all over Gd’s world—and that’s why it is Gd’s country. Its greatest strength lies in its diversity—allowing people from everywhere to bring their special energies and make their unique contributions nurtured in the soil of freedom and equal opportunity.

In our Torah portion, Balak, king of Moav, saw that the Jewish people—because of their holiness—could not be defeated militarily. The great armies of the world like Egypt, Amalek, Og and Sichon tried, but failed. So Balak asked the heathen prophet Bilaam how he could destroy the Jewish people and he told him that the only way was to defeat them, not with their militaries, but with immorality. He then sent the woman of Moav to entice the Jewish men into idolatry. Ultimately, it failed, but it almost worked.

Yes, America is a holy nation. And so, despite the pandemic and current high unemployment—nothing can defeat us. The only thing that can bring us down is if we lose what makes us holy—our moral values of freedom, equal rights and equal opportunities for all. So, let’s lose our cynicism, and do what we can to bring justice and equality to America. And let’s say, happy birthday America and may Gd bless you. Amen!

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