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“ASK NOT WHAT YOUR COUNTRY CAN DO FOR YOU…..”             PARSHAT HUKAT/BALAK- 7/4/20

07/06/2020 12:18:22 PM

Jul6

Rabbi Weinberg

The Plano city council voted Wednesday evening.   You and I are not required to wear masks in public.  Against the wishes of the mayor and 83 percent of the public who responded, the referendum was defeated. It was argued, a requirement to wear a mask is an infringement on one’s freedom. It represents government overreach.

It is an infringement on my freedom when I am told not to smoke a cigarette in a restaurant.  It is an infringement on my freedom that I will be ticketed if I don’t stop at a red light in a busy intersection.   It is an infringement on my freedom that I cannot say whatever I want about people I despise.  Why all these laws?  Why do we curtail our freedom in a country that worships freedom?

It has been proven, scientifically that masks help to control the spread of this deadly virus. It has been demonstrated that social distancing helps prevent each of us from contracting the disease. But, that doesn’t matter to some.

Yesterday, new cases of COVID-19 exceeded 1,000 in Dallas county- far surpassing the previous record for one day.  The number hovered around 200 just a couple of weeks ago.  131,000 people have died in our country; over half a million deaths worldwide have been attributed to COVID-19.

Yet, we continue to see the absolute disregard for public safety so often in our communities, on our lakes, and, even in our private homes.  

57 and half years ago President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, a beacon of hope for so many young people at the time was inaugurated President of the United States of America. Standing on the steps of Congress, having removed his overcoat on a bitterly cold January day he recorded one of the most iconic phrases associated with presidential inaugurations. Boldly and courageously he declared, “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country!”

Can you imagine hearing those words today?  Where are those ideals?  Where is our sense of sacrifice for the common good?  Why are we so unwilling to compromise for the welfare of all?  What has happened to our image of ourselves and our vision for our greater community? 

Today is observed as our Day of Independence. 244 years ago, the Second Continental Congress declared independence from England.  The Thirteen Colonies had bonded together, as best they could to form the pre-curser to the United States of America. With tremendous pride and grit, the early pioneers sought for and established a country premised on a constitution that reflected mankind’s most sophisticated expression of ideals for a shared commonwealth.  Even with its imperfections, it has proven to be a guiding light to the civilized world, providing courageous leadership and inspiring sacrifice for the betterment of its citizens and the world at large.

This week’s Torah portion includes one of the best-known phrases in the Torah- “Mah tovu ohalecha Yaakov, mishk’notecha Yisrael- How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, Israel.”  Signaling the shared brotherhood of mankind, this phrase has been used in countless interfaith settings, reminding everyone of the many ideals we share as human beings.  

Led by Rashi- Rabbi Shimon ben Yitzhaki, our people’s greatest Biblical commentator- this phrase was utilized to offer a profound insight into the human psyche.   We learn that the specific reference to tents teaches that every Israelite tent was placed in such a way that no tent would infringe on another family’s privacy.  No two tent openings would face each other.  Every family was entitled to its privacy.  Every family curtailed their freedom to some extent for the betterment of the whole community.  A sense of modesty, respect, and communal well-being was established even while the Israelites were wandering through the wilderness of Sinai.

Today, we celebrate our freedom.  Perhaps without the usual fanfare associated with fireworks and parades we will reflect not only on the freedom and opportunity associated with our unique country but the host of responsibilities that ensure the endurance of our freedom.  

We like to remind ourselves that we are blessed with freedom from oppression, freedom from coercion, and freedom from subjugation.  But, we must never forget that we must exercise our freedom to vote, exercise our freedom to serve our country, exercise our freedom to demand equality for all, exercise our freedom to wear a mask for the sake of protecting everyone in our midst.  Freedom, in the best sense implies responsibility.  May we never relinquish our role as stewards of this precious gift.  

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Stefan J Weinberg

Thu, April 15 2021 3 Iyyar 5781