Friday, March 24, 2017

We Can't Wait for the World to Change

Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei
March 24, 2017
Rabbi David A. Lipper

Me and all my friends
We're all misunderstood
They say we stand for nothing
There's no way we ever could
Now we see everything is going wrong
With the world and those who lead it
We just feel like we don't have the means
To rise above and beat it

So we keep waiting (waiting)
Waiting on the world to change
We keep on waiting (waiting)
Waiting on the world to change
Its hard to be persistent
When we're standing at a distance
So we keep waiting (waiting)
Waiting on the world to change

These are the first two verses of a popular song, “Waiting on the World to Change” by John Mayer. Now, if you are asking yourself, who is John Mayer, don’t feel bad, I didn’t know it either. One of my colleagues wrote about this song awhile back.

For those in the know, John Mayer’s song has become an anthem to today’s generation of youth. When I heard this song, I found myself becoming uncomfortable. I started to squirm with every refrain of “Waiting on the world change.” Now, don’t get me wrong, this is not going to be a “those darn kids and their music” sermon. Mayer expresses a true sense of frustration with the state of the world, and a feeling of powerlessness to respond or effect change. Many of us can identify with this sentiment. What bothers me is the complete sense of resignation, the acceptance, and capitulation to the status quo. It is as if, Mayer and those for whom he sings are defeated before they even try. Or worse yet, they feel like their efforts are in vain, so they have given up. “We Shall Overcome” - it is not. While we cannot be na├»ve in thinking that the world’s problems will merely be solved by goodwill and idealism, there must be another response than simply waiting for the world to change.

Our tradition shares Mayer’s realistic outlook on the world’s brokenness. If anything we remind ourselves of the fractured nature of human fallibility and imperfection over and over again. We include brokenness in moments of celebration. The groom breaks a glass at the conclusion of every Jewish wedding. At the height of celebration the shards remind the community of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, exile, and a world yet to be repaired.

The kabbalistic understanding of the creation of the world says that brokenness is woven into the very fabric of its existence. When God created the world, the Holy One put all of the divine light of creation into vessels. The vessels could not contain this light and they shattered, scattering the light and fragments of vessels everywhere. An incomplete, imperfect world remained in its place. Depressing! The world itself is broken. But this is not the end of our story. According to the mystics, the creation of the world was not over with the breaking of the vessels. The point of humanity is to find the broken pieces of the vessels, and glue them back together so that the divine light might once again be whole. This is not God’s task, it is ours. The kabbalists called this process tikkun olam, repairing the world.

This is the nechemta, the signature, our source of comfort. The Jewish attitude and outlook differs from the sentiment of waiting for the world change. Judaism says, the world is one messy place, but we are responsible to engage in its repair. That is why we do mitzvot. With each mitzvah that we do, a piece of the vessel is returned, a spark of light and goodness retrieved. With each mitzvah that we do, we come closer to God as partners in creation. But it is overwhelming. The task is daunting and there are powerful forces that stand in the way: health care, climate change, human trafficking, slavery, oppression, war, famine, hate, corporate greed, government lies and deception. Where to begin?

There is a story of man who came upon a young boy on a beach strewn with millions of starfish washed ashore. As the man approached, he saw the boy bending down and picking up a starfish and throwing it back into the ocean. The man looked at the boy, shook his head and said, “You cannot possibly think that you will make a difference. There are millions of starfish dying on this beach.” The boy bent down, picked up a starfish and threw it into the ocean. Then he looked at the man said, “I made a difference to that one.” He did the same with another and said, “I made a difference to that one.”

As Jews we acknowledge reality, but we do not give up on the ideal. We list the problems, but we do not become listless to the challenge at hand. Because to lose our hope, to let go of our ideals is to stop being Jewish. It is to admit that Torah is ineffective and that mitzvot are meaningless gestures. Instead, we teach our children that the world will not change unless we start to change it. And at times, we need to stop to remind ourselves of this, too.

Next Sunday, April 2nd, we will gather here at TBT to join over a million and a half people around the world by becoming the change we want to see in the world. International Good Deeds Day is a global day that unites people from 88 countries to do good deeds for the benefit of others and the planet. Good Deeds Day is a global annual tradition of good, calling everyone to come out together and give of themselves for the benefit of others and the planet. People can unite around good. Just imagine the impact! If every person does something to make a difference, and communities, organizations, and corporations give of their time and skill to help others, lives will be improved, and our world will be a better one. Good Deeds Day has swept people from all cultures and backgrounds. In 2017 Good Deeds Day marks its 11th year of expanding the circles of good, involving millions worldwide.

Since 2007, millions of people from thousands of organizations and businesses have joined together every year to volunteer and do good. Last year, there were over 14,000 projects in 75 countries creating over 4 million volunteer hours of work … in one day! Imagine what we can do this year.

Thanks to the inspiration of our Shinshinit, Noga Cherzman, TBT is joining in this effort. On April 2nd, you have the opportunity to participate in one of 10 different projects to help those in our community and around the world. Tonight is one more opportunity to put your name on one of our lists. Noga has worked hard together with Donna Blankinship and our Tikkun Olam committee, to make these projects happen. Unfortunately she is at Kalsman this Shabbat but she will be here on Sunday if you have questions. We need volunteers for many projects still and we need your help. Remember, God put us on this world for a purpose, to be God’s hands in the repair of the world…to heal its brokenness.

Remember the familiar teaching in Pirke Avot, “Lo Alecha hamlacha ligmor, v’lo alecha ben horin l’hibatel mimenah - It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” We may not see the world perfected in our day, but we can hold onto the faith that we have done our part and that another generation of Jews will come after us bringing Torah and healing to the world. I hope we will remember that our tradition says that we cannot wait. I hope that this Shabbat we lead and be the change we want to see in the world.

Shabbat Shalom