Carrying On After The Golden Age
Living after the Civil Rights Movement, we, like the children of Jacob, have the opportunity to carry the ideals of previous generations into the future.
Are those generations inferior because they did not speak individually with God, leave family and homeland on a mere promise, or debate justice with God over Sodom? Of course not. They had in many ways a more difficult task: to make manifest principles that their ancestors had only just discovered.
Dramatic as first steps might be, the tenth and hundredth present their own challenges. Exciting as it may be to meet the charismatic founder, the true test of a vision is whether people in general can sustain it, propound it, and live it.
Furthering Jacob's Vision
So I read my copy of "Letter from Birmingham Jail" and fantasize about decisions I might have made--but then I have to face the choices and opportunities here and now.
I choose to focus on doing something about poverty in America by engaging and training a new cadre of Jewish teens, and studying Torah with them as it relates to wealth, work, and community. I work hard at that, and from time to time create something new in the world, a path for young Jews to follow that enables them to see how they can change our society.
In and of itself, that won't land me in the history books. But if in time the books tell the story of a new generation committed to service and social justice, I'll recognize myself as one of the unnamed great-great-grandchildren of Jacob, an heir doing his part to further the visions of the golden age.
There is an old story that traces the Sh'ma, arguably the most central Jewish prayer, to Jacob's deathbed. According to the legend, Jacob let his children know his doubts and fears about whether they would continue in his path. They answered him: Sh'ma, Yisrael--"Listen, Israel," addressing Jacob by his God-given name--"the Lord our God, the Lord is One." We will carry on your vision, they say. And in the process, the first "ungolden" generation writes the words that have unified Jews ever since.
Maybe we, the children born too late to integrate the lunch counters, can be like Jacob's children--the ones to write the powerful new words that make the visions of the past reverberate through all time to come.
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