Jewishly Speaking features a thought from a member of our Jewish Enrichment team. This issue’s message comes from Rabbi Meir Tannenbaum, Director of Jewish Enrichment.
Every year as July 4th, American Independence Day, approaches, I think about the relationship between my country and my faith. This story, relayed in the Talmud in Yoma 69a, is one I constantly return to:
The Samaritan people requested permission from Alexander the Great to destroy the Temple and he agreed. When the High Priest, Simeon the Righteous, was informed of this, he immediately set out on the road with other leaders in the community. The armies of Alexander and the Samaritans set out to meet them and at dawn the two groups met.
Alexander descended from his chariot and bowed before Simeon. His escorts said to him, “Should a king bow to this Jew?” He said to them, “I do so because before each battle, it is his image that I see before me as a sign of victory.”
Alexander then said to the Jewish people, “Why have you come?” And Simeon said to him, “Is it possible that you have been misled into destroying the Temple, the house in which we pray for you and for your kingdom? Should we be silent and not tell you?”
Immediately, Alexander granted their request and spared the Temple.
Looking at the story again this year, two fundamental questions stick out:
Of course Simeon was not lying when he claimed that he prayed for Alexander and his kingdom there, because Judaism directs us to be loyal citizens of our country. We can certainly disagree with its decisions, policies, and practices. We can demand change and even protest when we feel change is not forthcoming. And at the same time, we must always pray for our government, and ask that our leaders be guided by wisdom, morality, and clarity. However, the second question shows that asking and praying is not enough. We must make our voices heard through voting, engagement, and demonstration, ensuring that our leaders see our image before them every time they take their legislative and political battlefields. You voice can be heard, and make a true impact on those making the decisions.
Simeon’s message to us is simple yet incredibly important—never give up on your country. Do whatever you can to help it, fix it, and change it if you have to, and make sure that you still feel Independence Day is something worth celebrating.
Happy July 4th!