Children Born in Freedom- Raising the Next Generation
Lessons from Spies and the Red Light District of Jericho
Shelach 6 13 15
You know that Rabbis get all sorts of interesting announcements from all sources, some human, some claiming to be super-human. One such message, from a phone call to me, went as follows: “ I have an important message to deliver. The Moshiach, Messiah, is coming to town. He is coming this Tuesday, and Chabad knows that he will appear at the Park on Gardner Street. Would we please send our children to go and greet him. “
That was the attitude some twenty or more years ago, when the last Rebbe of Chabad Chasidism, z”l, passed away. He was a man of such profound impact that many of his followers, till today, still of him in the present tense, as if he were still alive.
You know that there are two indications in Jewish tradition that the Moshiach is here--either it is so good that surely he is here, or it is so bad, that only the Moshiach can help us. We had that sense of so-good/so-bad then, and today, we have that sense even more, but leaning more to the so-bad rather than the so-good side, ever since 9/11, the Great Recession, ISIS and a long laundry list.
There are those who argue that surely, it is so good. After all, there is an Israel and the Moshiach will surely come before Abbas and the Palestinians get their act together, the Arab world is in splinters, the Saudis cooperate with Israel--if that's not moshiach tzeiten, Messianic times, then I don't know what is.
On the other hand, there are those who will tell you that the Moshiach must be here, for the opposite reason.
Not only is the world in a state of disarray- no need to read the laundry list of world crises, but there is another factor.
Many would claim that we meet the classic description of the onset of the Messianic era according to the Talmud...:
Hutzpah-insolence-will increase, ...nearim zekynim yalbinu-youth will make their elders pale from shame ... ben manavel av--the son shall disgrace his father, the daughter rise up against her mother... the members of one's own household shall be one's own enemies--pney hador kepney hakelev-- the face of the generation is as the face of a dog.
( Talmud Sota 9.15)
Surely, they will tell us, the new generation is coming up so badly, it is a dog-faced generation, and we need a moshiach. We look at the content of social media, rap music, the un-ending plague of drug abuse, violent rioting in the streets.
So everything is either so good, or so bad, it is like the stock market. You can go long or go short. Either way, the Moshiach better be here.
However, the Moshiach did not come to Gardner Park then, and we are still waiting today, two decades later.
We need a new generation to pick up the ball and fix things before the Moshiach comes. The Greatest Generation, of WWII veterans and Holocaust survivors, is moving on. Baby Boomers, perhaps the not-so-great generation, such as former Presidents Clinton and Bush, are graying. Generation X and Millennials and whatever- label-is-applied young children today will have to pick up the ball.
The last month has seen the commemorations of the end of World War II in Europe 70 years ago. 70 years is a Biblical lifetime.
It was a poignant reminder that in order to preserve the world, not just for our democracy, but for human civilization itself, many, countless many gave their lives.
Now one lifetime later, we face a world in which perhaps, perhaps we will not need such extreme sacrifice. For next lifetime, the battle may not be one of tanks and missiles but it will be a battle of the heart of civilization, of human decency.
It is difficult to go from slavery to freedom; it is very easy to slip from freedom back to slavery.
We look at our Torah reading today, Shelach, a tale of espionage and of demoralization form within. Moses sends the famous 12 spies, who bring back report of the dangers that the Promised land has in store for them. The children of Israel, so recently freed from Egyptian bondage, are afraid of the cost that their new home will require. Their instinct is to go backwards, to retreat. It is not for another 38 years, that a new generation arises, born in liberty and under the teachings of the Torah, that the nation is ready for its challenge.
Joshua had a generation born in slavery replaced by a generation born in freedom.
In our time, however, we have a generation coming up now, born in freedom that is afraid that its future is dim, is afraid that the prospects are nil. The overall economy is reportedly strong, yet graduates see their positons squeezed down and the non-graduates are squeezed out. This is the first generation that fears going down in living standards instead of up. What is going wrong?
We have had rioting in the streets, inflamed by those who know how to spark anger in the hearts of those who feel left out and left behind. Political figures rush to offer pablum or put bandaids rather than deal with real issues.
Here is a generation of youth in trouble.
40 years ago, a young social scientist, later the influential Senator, Patrick Moynihan ,looked squarely at the problem afflicting impoverished youth then. He saw that the abandonment of the family by the father directly paralleled the rise in crime and violence, just at a time when opportunities were opening up for the first time in American history.
The social system which was to protect children created an atmosphere which destroyed children. Television and movies have glorified the single-mothers who has high education and advanced skills, but the problem does not lie there. The problem lies with the single mother, who are uneducated, unskilled, and just a youngster herself, left to fend on her own. These are the core of the poor in this country. It not a phenomenon of the lower-income black community—it is a phenomenon of lower-income of all ethnic groups, including white population.
I know of this first hand as my daughter works with the county and her job is to track down and throw the books at the many, many fathers who has given up on their families and left them to the mercies of the state.
This is a human problem, for black, brown, and white.
We are now faced with children who have been abandoned, if not physically, then morally and spiritually, by their parents and by their society.
We reap what we sow. The tragedy is that our policies, of left or of right, have eradicated the family and the one element that creates for a healthy society. How do we pick up the pieces again.? How do we rebuild this support that once was?
Frederick Close suggested this:
“Families are not islands. To be effective, families must be supported by schools, as well as churches and synagogues, communities, business, the media, government. Otherwise, the children are at risk the moment they leave the front door. “
The Haftarah for today is very telling of our modern plight. We have the heroine, Rachab hazonah,Rachab the prostitute, engaged in the occupation of least repute. She sells herself; she is left without pride or dignity.
She lives, our text tells us, on the city walls, the most vulnerable part of the city, the first part to be attacked in event of war. It is the outskirts of the society--the outer perimeter. Jericho, the symbol of urban civilization, the oldest existing city on the face of the earth, could not properly care for its citizens. The grandeur of civilization for some of its citizens was built upon the degradation of others in its society.
Is it any wonder that Rahab betrays her city? She has been forced to sell herself to the first bidder, constantly. She has been forced to live on the margins of her society. What does she owe her people, what does she owe her country -- nothing.
Is it any wonder that she helps those who would undo that world?
So, we look at this generation, we look at the future of this country. It is true; there are many young people who are outstanding. They have been fortunate to be born into homes of warmth and love and concern. There are also many outstanding young people who have been born into poor backgrounds, born into poverty, who nevertheless rise up to become a blessing to society.
But what of the other man's children? What of the other youngsters, the ones in trouble, the one making our daily life difficult. They too are our youth. What of them?
A man once complained to the Baal Shem Tov that his son had abandoned his religion completely.
What shall I do? he cried to the great teacher?
“Do you love him.?" He asked.
Of course I do.
“Then," answered the Baal Shem Tov, "Love him even more."
That is our challenge. It is not to give youngsters a pass for misbehavior, because that is even more destructive. When the blame for society’s shortcomings are placed on the police, the greatest victims are the very poor people whose interests we pretend to protect. People suffer in the streets even more so when policing is absent. However, it falls on all elements of society, not just a government bureaucrat from above, but clubs, churches, civic groups, and entrepreneurs to seek ways to rebuild communities, to rebuild families. That is the only way we can turn the generation of the wilderness into a generation that may enter the Promised Land.