The Hebrew name for the United States is “Artzot Ha-brit”, literally “the states of the covenant.” The 50 states in the union and Washington, DC are bound together by a covenantal agreement which joins us together as a unified country. We joined together because despite political, socio-economic, ethnic, cultural, geographic, religious and so many other differences we share so much more in common as an American people. We’re reminded of this when we recite our Pledge of Allegiance:
“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” When we recite the Pledge, we make an oath that our democratic republic promises to be a place of “liberty and justice for all.”
As Americans, we are bound by the covenant of the Constitution of the United States and its Amendments. The values of the founders of our country who wrote the Declaration of Independence in 1776 still hold true for us today, they are enduring and withstand the test of time. As Americans, the values of “liberty and justice for all” should take primary importance in each of our lives.
These values are not only American values, they are Jewish values as well. I reflect on this today, the Shabbat immediately prior to our American Independence Day, the 4th of July, because of what Shabbat symbolizes. Shabbat is supposed to be an “island in time,” a day that represents a time of perfection when all humanity lives in harmony and peace with one another. One of our concluding prayers, the Alaynu, reflects that notion of a future of hope, looking toward the day when all will be in a state of “oneness” and perfection:
(Frishman , Elyse. Mishkan T’filah: A Reform Siddur: Complete: Shabbat, Weekdays, and Festivals, p. 591. CCAR Press, NY).
For centuries people have come to the United States seeking a life of freedom, opportunity, and peace, they have come seeking a life of “liberty and justice for all.” As a people of faith, we Jews are part of a fabric that joins with other faith traditions who share a conviction in the full humanity of every person. We believe that to be human is to be created in the image of the Divine we call by many names: among them God, Allah, Spirit. When we fail to see the divine in one another, we diminish our own humanity. The biblical imperative to “love your neighbor” knows no religious, political or national boundaries, and our common interest in security is only undermined when we allow fear to dismantle the very principles of our democracy. When we fail to see the humanity in all people, then the very principles upon which our beautiful United States of America was founded are denied. Our Jewish values are negated. We, as a people, become diminished.
As we prepare to celebrate Independence Day this today, we know things are not perfect here in the US: antisemitism is on the rise, the flames of racism, prejudice and hatred burn unfettered, discrimination due to anti LGBTQ+ hatred or misogyny or xenophobia or so many other issues is still rampant, as well as poverty, hunger and economic injustice plagues our society so deeply.
So how do we live out our Jewish and American values of “liberty and justice for all” as we approach Independence Day this year?
My friends, it is us – you and I together who brings God’s presence into our world, who will bring “liberty and justice for all” into the fabric of our country in a real and lasting way. God’s presence is found inside you and inside me, when we look deep into each other’s eyes, getting to know each other’s hearts, joining hands, marching together, for the sake of a better world, a sanctuary of peace, freedom, justice and goodness, for all men, women and children.
The Koran teaches: “We have made you into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another.” In our Jewish tradition, we’ll recite this prayer this evening from our prayerbook, Mishkan T’filah, “There is no way to get from here to there except by joining hands and marching together.”
So now I would like to ask you to “join hands and march together” to take one step to make our beautiful country stronger, healthier, a place where we truly have “liberty and justice for all. Then our world will shine a little brighter, with a little more hope and the fireworks will rise to the very gates of Heaven. Happy 4th of July!
Rabbi Sharon L. Sobel
Senior Rabbi, Temple Beth Sholom