Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Sh’lach L’cha
Aristotle taught us that, in terms of “potential,” there are two realities. Here is the abridged explanation. The first (and primary) reality exists within a being’s natural potential. The second reality is what intervening forces can make it become. Aristotle referred to this potential as an actualized potential. We speak of acorns as though they are baby trees. We call the plants in the ground flowers, even though they have not yet bloomed. Barring an interruption in nature, they will reach their natural potential. We manipulate the corn to make a tortilla. We arrange the flowers into a bouquet. Hence, their actualized potentials.
Applying this standard to human beings, he would argue that as infants, we are destined to grow up. Along life’s path, we will learn specific skills and ideas that will cause us to make decisions impacting our life’s path.
That said, our biology is the foundation of our primary potential reality. We biologically fit into racial categories. We can artificially alter these categories with surgery and cosmetics, but our biology is our biology. Many of us have some DNA abnormalities. Some manifest in disabilities and others in behavioral differences. These realities make up our primary human potentiality. We will grow into a more aged version of what we were born to be.
Our imposed potentials cause us to see the world through cultural, artistic, political, or religious frames of reference. A rock does not have to want to become a rock to be a rock. A human has to want to play guitar to do so. Language is an imposed potentiality. Government is, as well. Nations form and fall apart in response to how the ethos of the government responds to, protects, or interferes with humanity’s primary potentiality.
The framers of the United States of America understood Aristotle’s distinction. In the Constitution and its appended Bill of Rights, the framers sought to form a “more perfect union;” a government that protected the human being’s inalienable rights to live their primary potential (life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness) while also providing a structure to bring these disparate potentialities into synch for the betterment of the whole community. Specific laws centralized powers that they felt were needed to hold the system together as a nation. They left other potential laws in the hands of the more local states and communities. They presumed that the respective communal cultures should dictate some of the rules of engagement since each would have its own “flavor.”
Ultimately, America can only fulfill its potential if every person (read the document – not every citizen but every person) experiences the freedoms due to each person and the responsibilities to care for the whole. We are not, as a nation, functioning in this capacity. We are not secure enough in our faith and understanding to be able to accept the validity of someone else’s. We see their diversity as a threat and not as an opportunity to learn and grow.
The rhetoric that drives people to inhibit each other’s inalienable rights is louder than it has been in decades. With the proliferation of social media – the news (real and fake) disseminates with the speed of light, and people have no time to digest ideas before they either feel emotionally compelled or enabled to respond. Responses are not thoughtful; they root in knee-jerk reactions to whatever we hear. These reactions root in fear of the unknown, unfamiliar, or as yet indiscernible “truths” flying around the world.
I once read that fear is an acronym: “False Evidence Appearing Real.” The great sage Yoda (Star Wars) taught us, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” Fear keeps people from fulfilling their potential of growing each other’s blessings.
In this week’s Torah portion, Moses sends spies into the land of Canaan (Israel) to make sure it is all that God promised. It is. The spies witnessed a land flowing with the most luscious of fruits and streams, a land of abundance, suitable for people to live faithfully and securely for the rest of time. The majority of the spies were too afraid and insecure to realize that these blessings were for them. Their fear and lack of faith led them to assume that the giant fruit meant that giants lived there and would destroy Israel as it would cross into the land. Their fear caused God to realize that these people born into servitude did not have the capacity to understand freedom. Their fear caused us to wander for 40 years in the wilderness, and those promised the land of freedom as they left Egypt, never fulfilled their potential life in freedom. The irrationally fear based testimony of ten spies condemned a nation of millions.
Before he rides off into the sunset with God, Moses tells Joshua, “Chazak v’amatz – be strong and courageous.” It is not that fear is the enemy, but living in fear or giving into fear is only destructive. Aristotle taught, “He who has overcome his fears will truly be free.” Author James Neil Hollingsworth wrote, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” That “something else” is each other’s dignity and the sanctity of our commitment to fulfilling each of our human potentiality of celebrating life. Shabbat Shalom.