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Teddy Bear or Eagle: America, What Are You?

by Rabbi Shimon Posner

  

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This country was founded, settled, defined and furthered by people who left their homes for the unknown. Whether or not they were religious (in the conventional sense) is (and will be) debated by those with agendas. It is unarguable however, that the founders of this country were risk-takers -- and inherent in risk is belief. They were, in other words, believers.

Appropriately, the fledgling country chose for their symbol the eagle, the Biblical metaphor for mercy, majesty and redemption. One of the presidents who personified the country’s ethos -- so well they etched his face on a big rock -- was Teddy Roosevelt. Incongruously, his legacy is cuddly, harmless, lovably ineffectual: the teddy bear.

Not only Teddy, but the One to whom this nation pledges that it is under, has softened into someone cuddly to whom we intone pledges and sing that He bless us. He occupies a sacred place along with honor, flag and, well, apple pie.

He is not to make us uncomfortable. He is not to demand how we dress, what we eat, the content of our entertainment, what we teach our children. He is not to stick out awkwardly: at odds with what we deem appropriate. He is created in our image. We love him. He is our Teddy Bear.

A god who makes me feel warm and protected is nothing more than abstract materialism: a warm place to go, home and hearth. For that matter a god who tells you to go is nothing more than an adventurer...
The first word from G-d to Abraham is “Go from your land, your father’s home, your birthplace to the land which I will show you”.1 No comfort zones allowed. Leave them and only then can you achieve everything I have in store for you, everything of which you are capable. Only by stepping outside of yourself can you grow -- and can I be your G-d. From childhood on, for over seventy years, Abraham defied the mores of his society and a despotic tyrant who declared himself god. The tyrant threatened Abraham with death if he did not repudiate his belief; Abraham did not waver. Still, after all this, G-d told him: leave the familiar and comfortable.

Their gods are of silver and stone, they have eyes that do not see and ears that do not hear, mocked the psalmist. Not exclusively did he refer to idols from Sunday-school coloring books. A god who makes me feel warm and protected is nothing more than abstract materialism: a warm place to go, home and hearth. For that matter a god who tells you to go is nothing more than an adventurer, if it is only adventure and change of scenery you are after. But when G-d tells us to leave our laurels of yesterday’s accomplishment and take on the new he is really telling us to be alive today.

And (paradoxically) he adds that this will be good for you, you will become wealthy, prosperous and numerous. Not comfortable: good.

Teddy bears are good... for kids. At a boy's third birthday we throw candy at him and give him honey in the shape of the Aleph-Bet because the words of Torah are sweet. But then we move him on to meat and potatoes: study of these words “for they are our lives and the length of our days”. What is sweet at three, if allowed to linger will turn sacchariny at twenty-three -- and have fostered cavities of decay in the soul.

Feeling warm and comfortable is not inherently bad; but it becomes debilitating when it is pursued as a goal.

Avinu Shebashamayim - Our God in Heaven.

The majesty of the eternal calls to and resonates in a soul, a spark of that majesty sent to unfurl the majesty inherent in life on earth. To bring the majesty of heaven down to earth. Heaven: something greater than the comfortable and familiar. The eagle soars there. The symbol of America: a nation under.

Footnotes

  • 1. Genesis 12:1

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Philosophy » Religion

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Abraham
First Jew, and first of our three Patriarchs. Born into a pagan society in Mesepotamia in 1812 BCE, he discovered monethieism on his own. He was told by G-d to journey to the Land of Canaan where he and his wife Sarah would give birth to the Jewish People.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.