Someone in my shul referred me to an article by Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, rabbi of Congregation Shearith Israel (the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue), which appeared in The Wall Street Journal of July 3-4. The article pointed to the classic painting by John Trumbull, placed in the Capitol Rotunda since July 4, 1826 – the 50th anniversary of American independence. The painting depicts the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
As Rabbi Soloveichik notes, quoting historian David McCullough, the painting is unique in that it has two primary focal points: that of Thomas Jefferson and that of John Adams. Only those two are given full-bodied prominence in the painting.
Rabbi Soloveichik goes on to write that both were enlightened thinkers, advancing the cause of freedoms for man. However, Jefferson was wholly secular. While he did believe in G-d and that men are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,” nonetheless, religion itself should have no role in the fledgling country. Adams, on the other hand, believed that only “faith provided a moral guarantee for the human equality cherished by the Enlightenment philosophers.”
It seems to me that this country flourished for many years because of its inherent faith. On its very coinage does “In G-d We Trust” appear. The Pledge of Allegiance proclaims, “one nation under G-d,” and so on.
The nation was rooted in religious belief and faith in G-d – Democrat, Republican, and Independent alike. Then I assume that it was following the Vietnam War, in the late 1960s, that the country exploded with defiance and began to reject its own moral underpinnings. With it went faith in G-d, as well.
The glorious results are what we are experiencing today. Olympic stars take pride in defacing the flag before the world. Certain congresswomen, who owe their very lives to this country, spit in its face while their leadership gives its tacit approval.
We are being told that as a society we are rotten to the core. We are all racist. Our history is evil. Our corporate greed has no bounds. We must open our borders to all those who are dying to get into this rotten land and create havoc in its wake.
The Fourth of July was celebrated with fireworks at every street corner. It was like a war zone. Yet to a good extent, it was orchestrated by people who hate everything this country stands for. Ironically, the Washington Nationals baseball team had to forgo their fireworks display due to “noise concerns.” Right! Good people are leaving our city in droves. Many Jews are choosing to go on aliyah to Israel (good choice). The insane have taken over the asylum, as Rabbi Emanuel Feldman recently wrote in Mishpacha magazine.
If a country has no religious core values, then eventually it has no values. And its society begins to crumble.
This is precisely why the Chazal say (Taanis 30b): “Whoever mourns over the destruction of Yerushalayim will merit to see its restoration; whoever does not mourn its destruction will not see its restoration.” We cannot celebrate our future independence without mourning the absence of Hashem’s Temple. On Pesach Seder night, we make sure to recall our historic suffering as symbolized with the presence of an egg, an item used for the traditional mourner’s meal. We note that the Seder night falls out on the same day of the week as Tish’ah B’Av.
If we do not inject spiritual meaning into our beginnings, we will not have any eternity to our future. If we do not recite Av HaRachamim every week to recall the past calamities of the Crusades, then Yom HaShoah will not be passed to the next generation. Only by commemorating Tish’ah B’Av do we know that our “Independence Day,” Pesach, will be celebrated forever. No fireworks needed.
Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, Vice President of the Coalition for Jewish Values, former President of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens, and the Rabbinic Consultant for the Queens Jewish Link.