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Sunday, November 4, 2012

Empowering a Nation

"...  and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so were we in their sight."  -- Numbers 13:33


By the time that this is posted, the United States will be in the midst of a critical election.  It likely will tell us how we define ourselves as a nation.  More than that, it will tell us how a significant part of our population defines themselves.

In Biblical times, we are told of a nation that experienced miracles of a magnitude that are still beyond our comprehension.  The Source of the miracles then told them that they had been granted a certain land.  They were commanded to conquer that land and assured that the Source was with them.  They sent out spies.  When the spies returned most of the spies said that, compared to the occupants of the land, they saw themselves as grasshoppers.  The people refused to carry out the command.  The price for this was that the entire generation had to die in the desert.  The next generation would fulfill the mission under the leadership of the sole survivor of the previous generation.

Whether you view this tale as history or allegory, it has stimulated much commentary over the succeeding eighty-five generations.  It is a profound lesson in the nature of humans.  It appears remarkable that a people who had experienced the support of the greatest power in the universe for a year would refuse to obey the command.  After many demonstrations, did they still not trust in that power?  Obviously, the answer is yes, but, why?

The answer is quite simple.  Although they saw this great power around them, they could not internalize it.  They still did not trust themselves.  The victory had to wait until they had absorbed some aspects of that power into themselves.  Then they would be able to trust themselves and fulfill their appointed mission.  This is the remarkable lesson of the Torah.

There are those who declare that the singular purpose of government is to protect its people.  I would respectfully disagree.  The singular purpose of a just government is to provide its people with the means to protect themselves.

All forms of government, democracy, republic, monarchy and dictatorship claim that they "protect" their citizens.  That is why people cling to their governments.  They seek its protection.  Sadly, history has taught us that, all too often, this may lead to "enslavement".  I do not mean the slavery that we currently think of, but the enslavement of dependency and the voluntary loss of personal power - the enslavement that turns people into "grasshoppers".

Archeology has shown us that Egyptian slaves had adequate food, medical care and housing.  However, their lives depended solely on the will of the Pharaoh.  That is the reason why the people who departed from Egypt cried to go back.  The government in which they had been raised turned them into "grasshoppers".

No government empowers its people, unless the people create a government that empowers them.  This is the lesson of the exodus.  Even the greatest power in the universe cannot empower people unless they choose to empower themselves.  This is the gift of free choice.  This is why the Declaration of Independence states, "Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,".

The history of the Revolutionary Period in America is a magnificent example of national empowerment through the will of the people.  Under the Continental Congress, the United States was certainly not a strong nation.  Yet, it confronted one of the strongest empires in the world.  Its army was no match for the vaunted British army.  It sent representatives across Europe literally begging for financial assistance and talent.  Its only real asset was a population that most certainly did not see themselves as "grasshoppers".  From the will and dedication of this self-empowered population came the shining example of what can be achieved by a nation "of the people, by the people and for the people".

Sadly, many in the United States, and much of the Western World, have recently chosen to see themselves as "grasshoppers".  More and more are choosing the dependency and enslavement of "Egypt".  And, as we have been taught so very long ago, no power can change that except the will and self-empowerment of people.

In the next post, we shall begin to explore how the wisdom of ages can guide us on a path to self-empowerment.

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