Tipping The Balance

The Sunday’s New York Times of the last week in November highlighted a front-page story about the dismal future of New York City: a huge photo of the Statue of Liberty – under water – with the caption, 50-100-200 years. The storm, questions about the capacity of our cities’ infrastructures to take care of us, and an increasingly fragile and volatile eco-system have created a new undercurrent of anxiety. Add to that the elections, Israel’s vulnerability and the violence in the Middle East – and it seems like there is an unending list of important things hanging in the balance.

A New Year’s Reflection

Last weekend, David and I went to see the film Lincoln. I was surprised to realize that the 13th amendment to the constitution – ending slavery, affirming the equality of all men (!) in the United States before the law – passed by only 2 votes. And that was among the non-slave states of the North! We long for important changes to be swept by 80% agreement among our community. But perhaps many important changes are made just by tipping the balance. Tipping the balance toward peace; tipping the balance for energy conservation; tipping the balance for human rights.

It that is true – that it’s about tipping the balance – it means that what we do as individuals, what we do as one congregation, can make a critical difference.

For much of the past weeks, I have felt this underlying anxiety – and I felt despairing and stressed. The world indeed felt like everything was hanging in the balance. Until I realized that perhaps it’s always been that way, life has always been “hanging in the balance” – and our choice is to give up – or engage. Two thousand years ago, the rabbis who lived under Roman oppression were asked by their students if they could attend gladiator events in the Colosseum. The rabbis hesitated: Support an institution that degrades and desecrates life? Maybe that’s the last place a Jew should be. But then, on the other hand, perhaps it’s the essential place for a Jew to be. They reasoned: At the end of each event, Colosseum spectators had the chance to vote – thumbs up or down – to kill or keep alive the losing contestant. The rabbis ending up ruling that where you have the chance to choose life, you can and must show up. So now, more than ever, it is important for us to throw our hat into the ring – to engage in the social, economic, political and moral issues of our times. Everything you do matters; we can tip the balance for a more caring, safer and more peaceful world.

Wishing for each of us that we will find the resolve and passion to make 2013 a better year for us and for our world,