Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Restoring Courage: Glenn Beck's Moment

בְּיָדוֹ אַפְקִיד רוּחִי
בְּעֵת אִישָׁן וְאָעִירָה
וְעִם רוּחִי גְוִיָּתִי
אֲדֹנָי לִי וְלֹא אִירָא
Into G-d's hand, I commit my spirit,
When I sleep, and I shall awake;
And with my spirit, my body.
G-d is with me, I shall not fear.
--Adon Olam

Israel is under attack.
The Jewish people are once again threatened by destruction.
Who among the nations will speak up for us?

This is not a novel statement.
In certain circles such a statement would inspire the response:
"Ya think?" It would be said with a certain sarcastic, world-weary tone intended to impress the listener with the speaker's oh, so sophisticated approach to events. No doubt the responder has a different and more self-flattering view of what sophistication is than the actual meaning, derived from the practice of the ancient Greek sophists to teach a rhetoric in which the Socratic rules of logic may be used to argue contradictory sides of an argument one after another. Sophistry was a method of teaching used to inculcate in the young elite the skills needed to be a successful politician in the Athenian democracy. In the right hands, such skills could be useful in order to create a platform from which a politician could discuss ideas, but more often to be sophisticated in the root sense meant using the skills to manipulate voters in order to obtain power over them.

Israel is under attack.
This is not novel, but it is true.
Israel's very right to exist is being questioned and delegitimized. No other country on the face of the earth has had its right to exist challenged this way, no matter how cruel its government is to its own people, no matter how belligerent it is toward other countries, no matter how it was created.

The sophists find reasons why it is good and right and just to allow such talk. The cynics say that Israel is evil and that the West is too mired in its own sin to do anything about it.

And into the breech steps an earnest and idealistic American Christian who is somewhat ignorant of Judaism and even more so about Jews ourselves. Like many American Christians, he does not understand our fears and foibles, our prickly response to those who are not MOT*s and yet who seem to like us anyway.
Last week in Jerusalem, the radio host and commentator Glenn Beck held a rally in support of the Jewish people and of Israel. He called it Restoring Courage. He explained that just as the people of a small town in Ohio who had banded together to help one another in the face of the worst unemployment rate in the country had something to teach Americans about self-reliance, so too, does a tiny country surrounded by enemies have something to teach the world about courage.

With some trepidation, I arrived at the JCC in Albuquerque to watch the rally that was streamed from the south steps of the ancient Temple Mount in Jerusalem into a computer and onto a screen in New Mexico. I say 'with some trepidation', because Glenn Beck has made some gaffes about Jews and Judaism in the past that in my estimation were the product of his ignorance about us and his lack of knowledge about our long and trying history in relationship to Christianity.

I believe that these gaffes were the result of the fact that he views Judaism through the prism of his own experience with Christianity--as Christians are wont to do--and thus made these critical errors, not out of hatred, but out of ignorance and a habit of letting his mouth run ahead of his thoughts--as radio talk show hosts are wont to do. I also think that the Jewish leftists who gleefully took those gaffes out of context and ran with them while tolerating outright antisemitism from the men and women surrounding their O-Messiah were more than a little ridiculous, but that's another blog.

As I watched the sun move across the ancient stones of the walls and towers that once compromised the outer defenses of the Temple, and as I listened to the music by the Jerusalem Synagogue Choir (and an Israeli pop star soloist), and as I heard the speech by Jerusalem's Mayor, I was not only reassured, but I was also moved. And there at the JCC in Albuquerque, I was even more moved by the fact that when I reflexively stood for Hatikvah**, the whole roomful of people around me--who were mostly Christians from pro-Israel churches and campus organizations-- hastily, but graciously stood with me. The latter reminded me of the times within the past ten years that I have stood alone, surrounded by Christians (and sometimes even a few Jews), to defend Israel and the Jewish people against lies and calumny.

However, when Glenn Beck took the stage during his narration of the history of the Temple Mount--a place special to three religions--I gripped my chair with anxiety. What would this non-Jew say about Israel, sympathetic as he might be? Thus far the program had been very tasteful, and the historical narration did not peddle an exclusively Christian understanding nor was it condescending. But now, what would he say about Israel? About us?

As Daniel Gordis wrote in his book, Saving Israel, this anxiety stems from the expectation that when we hear about Israel from outsiders, we will hear a horror story designed to show that there is no goodness in Israel; that Israel is the state that has been designated to carry the sins of the world, as a scapegoat sent out into the desert is forced to bear the accusations that most people dare not aim at themselves, in their impossible pursuit of an impossible moral code that demands suicide. Israel, after all, is a country that is hated not for its vices, but for its virtues. So it was that as Mr. Beck began to speak, my anxiety mounted.

Just as the speaker was a different man than most who speak about Israel, so, too, was his speech different. He began by stating his purpose:

Today, I ask you turn your eyes to Israel and restore courage. I have been asked: What can you teach Israel about Courage? My answer is simple. Nothing.Then they ask: Why are you coming to Israel? Because, I say: In Israel, you see courage." ***

Previously in the program, Beck had demonstrated that the courage of faith, the courage of hope, and the courage of tikkun olam (repairing of the world) through the awarding of three Restoring Courage awards, given to the Fogel family of Itamar (posthumously), Maxim's Restaurant in Haifa, and Rami Levy's Grocery Stores, respectively. When he said these words, his audience had already been given examples upon which to reflect.

As Glenn continued speaking, my hands relaxed, and then went to my eyes to wipe away tears, for I was moved no more by anxiety, but by a combination of pride and relief, and a growing and fierce resolve. For Glenn spoke first about Israel's virtue, the commitment of her people--our people--to be strong and of good courage:

In Israel, there is more courage in one square mile than in all of Europe. In Israel, there is more courage in one soldier than in the combined and cold hearts of every bureaucrat at the United Nations. In Israel, you can find people who will stand against incredible odds . . . against the entire tide of global opinion, for what is right and good and true."

I felt relief, coming to know that there are people out there who are not Jews, and who can still see-- see through the lies of those cold-hearted bureaucrats at the UN, and the calculated hatred of the NGOs at the Durban Conferences, and through the casual libels of moral equivalency from the left and from the right--that Israel has virtue, that it is committed--as perhaps no other country is--to the protection of something good and precious and true. And I felt pride in the people that I call my own, and in my own willingness--for I am not bold, not really--to stand up, blushing, trembling and afraid--to counter the lies, the hatred and the venality of moral equivalence; to stand for principle even in venues where I am sure to be vilified.

My resolve grew as the speech continued, and Glenn Beck talked about why restoring our courage is so important now. For the world, he said, is once again on the verge of plunging itself into darkness and tyranny and death. And in such a world, the so-called leaders do not have the courage to tell the truth of things, to stand against the darkness, and it is their cowardice that takes us into the shadow. And it is our cowardice that allows it, and teaches our children that there is no remedy except chaos and fear:

"We may think: Oh, how different are today’s youth! But the young merely imitate their parents. They have seen how the world reacts to evil – with indifference. They watch, they learn, they imitate. What one generation tolerates, the next generation will embrace.

When the Fogel family was killed in their sleep the world barely took note. The grand councils of earth condemn Israel. Across the border, Syria slaughters its own citizens. The grand councils are silent. It’s no wonder our children light their streets on fire."

What one generation tolerates, the next will embrace.

This is why Beck would have us look to Israel in order to restore our own courage. For that is what it will take to overcome the silence of the grand councils and the false pomp of those who wish to rule us. And this is where the resolve comes, for courage--as the Cowardly Lion learned--is not something from without, but something that is ignited within:

In the 40 years of wandering in the desert, the ancient Hebrews were led through the dark of night by a pillar of fire. Courage is the act of walking into the darkness, and knowing that each step would be guided and protected by the pillar of fire, if we follow it. God is with us."

And this is where my resolve meets my doubt. He says what we sing at Purim:
"Plot your plots. Scheme your schemes. They will amount to nothingness. Ki-emmanuel. For with us is G-d."
But sadly, there are so many Hamans plotting our destruction; so many Hamans, but only one Purim.

For on the surface, there seems a vast difference between this naive Christian from America, who has boundless confidence that the Master of the Universe must do justice, must free the captive and must keep the Covenant. Beck stands in Jerusalem restored by human hands, and tells us that standing here--here, as the stones of Jerusalem burn gold in the setting sun--is why we can have courage. He says that the Pillar of Fire did indeed bring us here, after severe and awesome trials. Like the generation the wandered in the wilderness, we have seen the signs and wonders. But we have also seen the death and destruction; the smoke and ash that was once the bodies of those who made up a great civilization in the heart of Europe. To many Jewish ears such words do not come comfortably, with the blessed assurance that the American, the Christian, seems to have. Does the Eternal keep the Covenant? Jews might joke--as we have--that we ought to sue for breech of contract; that perhaps G-d ought to choose a different people. And we are not altogether joking, as the dark evil of antisemitism rises once more in our own time.

But there is more to Beck than meets the eye. He is no stranger to pain and doubt and destruction; not wrought by others, but brought upon himself. And out of despair, he set himself the goal of finding his life's purpose, of restoring his own honor and courage. And standing there, as he did, in Jerusalem rebuilt by human hands, this man of the nations, a stranger in Israel, reminded us of the hope and courage of those who dusted off their hands and rebuilt the city. And my resolve smoulders and catches again as I remember that a nes--a Hebrew miracle--is not the suspension of natural law, it is the tangible result of a stubborn resolve, the pillar of fire that burns in the human heart, demanding that we push back against death and destruction, that we live and live well. If G-d is, then surely G-d is in the small, wavering flame of that resolve.

Jewish tradition teaches there is a moment for which each person was born; a purpose which, if discovered and pursued, will lead to greatness and awesome deeds. Otherwise, life is vanity and chasing after the wind. I believe that Glenn Beck was reaching for his own purpose, which he believes is to be a watchman upon the walls, when he said:

Let us have the courage to choose life.
No more incitement.
No more threats.
No more terror.
No more talk of genocide.
No more hate.
No fear.
No more lies.

"We can read their signs, listen to their speeches. So we know that they say what they mean and mean what they say.

"Well: SO. DO. WE. . . .

"And so I say that if the world decides it must know who will stand with Israel, who will stand with the Jewish people, so they know exactly who to condemn, who to target, let them know this.

Condemn me. Target me. I will stand with Israel. I will stand with the Jewish people. And if they want to round us up again, I will proudly raise my hand and say 'Take me first.' "

And they call this man a fear-monger, a hater, a chaser after wind. The "ubiquitous they"--those who are oh, so sophisticated, and oh, so cynical--they who cannot accept that others have found what they refuse to look for within themselves, and so they see in others only what they find within: fear and hatred and futility.
But we are all weak vessels, our lives finite, our striving uncertain, and the possibilities for errors and false starts are very real. The cowards never start, and the weak fall by the wayside. And those who believe the rumors of their own evil throw themselves over into emptiness. But those who pick themselves up, and dust themselves off, finding the goodness within themselves and others, those are the ones who come to their moment.

Glenn Beck has found his purpose. He has come to his moment. If he does or says nothing else of meaning or weight in all the years left to him, it will not matter. Neither does it matter what the cynics say of him. He has lived his destiny. He has found his place among the righteous of the nations.

There is more to the speech. Beck outlines the responsibilities that go with the freedom to chart one's own course; the responsibilities that make it possible to create one's destiny. He urges us to take up the challenge, to commit to good purpose. There is more, and it is well worth reading. But he ends on a theme of the last lines of Adon Olam, the creed of Maimonides, saying:

"Evil is counting on us to do nothing. Evil is counting on us to be afraid. But evil has misjudged us. Evil has misjudged us as it has misjudged the Jewish people. The last line of a Jewish prayer is …Adonai li, v’lo ira.
God is with me, I fear not. . .

". . .There are many reasons to hear my words, leave here and do nothing. We all have been trained to believe that we are not strong enough, smart enough or powerful enough. Abraham was old, Moses was slow of speech, Ruth was a widow, David was a little boy, Joseph was in prison, and Lazarus was dead. What is your excuse?

"You were born for a time such as this. Begin by declaring that this is why you were placed on this earth. It doesn’t matter how you’ve spent your years on this planet. What matters is what you do now from here. I cannot promise you safety, prosperity or comfort. But I can promise you this. One day, your children and grandchildren will ask you: 'What did you do when the world was on the edge again? What did you say when the West, Israel and the Jews were blamed again?'

"You will look them in the eye and say: I had courage. And on the 24th of Av, I committed to stand with courage… to walk… to march… arm in arm… behind God’s pillar of fire.

Adonai li v’Lo Ira. God is with me, I fear not. "

Ken yehi ratzon. May it be G-d's will.

*Member of the Tribe
** The Hope--the Israeli National Anthem
*** All quotes from Beck's speech are taken from the full text published at The Blaze

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