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October 21, 2014 / 27 Tishri, 5775
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Civilization And The Severed Flower


One of the timeless truths and permanent principles of ancient Jewish wisdom is what I call the Severed Flower. This means that when I cut a beautiful fragrant flower off its plant in my garden and bring it indoors, I seem to have done a clever and good thing. No longer do I have to step outside and brave the weather in order to be able to enjoy the bright colors and intoxicating fragrance of my flower – it is right there in a vase on my desk.

However, as the next day dawns, I notice that the flower is not quite as colorful as it was yesterday and its perfume is harder to detect. After a few more hours, I am disappointed to discover that the flower is now faded and shriveled. Its sisters out there on the plant are still as magnificent as ever. I have discovered the sad secret of the severed flower.

The fragrant flower of American culture is frighteningly fragile. As long as it remained connected to its roots of Judeo-Christian values and biblical tradition, all was well. About fifty years ago there began a frenzied and feverish process of severing America from its roots. That process of secularization of our culture continues in our day with undiminished fervor.

At first it appeared to be very clever. No longer were we confined by the rules and restraints of religion. No longer did we have to think of cosmic right and wrong. We were the severed flower and we thought we were so colorful and so fragrant.

But little by little we began to shrivel and gradually we began to fade. Yes, there is sadly no question that during the past 50 years – since, say, 1960, life in America has become indescribably more expensive, more squalid and more dangerous. Yet one great distinction stands between a flower and our American culture: we can be reattached to our religious roots. We can return, restore, and redeem.

There are three main areas in which those religious roots nurtured and sustained us.

The first is marriage. Does anyone really suppose that marriage evolved naturally? And who would have thought of it first, anyway? A man or a woman? Men are happy to date for eleven years. It is never the man who says, “Darling, don’t you think we ought to be thinking about our future?” This is nearly always the woman. Men are happy to date for eleven years. It is never the man who says, “Darling, don’t you think we ought to be thinking about our future?”

So what might have happened? Since it wouldn’t have been a man, perhaps it was an early woman who came up to a man and said, “I have this great idea – why don’t we create a thing I’ve thought up called a marriage?” He says, “What’s marriage?” She says, “it’s like this: you stop looking at any other women and when I have a baby, you take care of us – hey, come back I’m not finished talking.” The guy takes off over the horizon in a cloud of dust.

Clearly marriage has its roots in God’s biblical blueprint. Without the first few chapters of Genesis, few would be getting married or staying married. Surely, we can all see that as faith has diminished in America, so has the strength and stability of marriage and family. But we can restore it and we can reattach the flower to the root.

The second area in which our religious roots sustained and nurtured us was money. Without the spiritual lens of faith, we inevitably tend to view money as something quite physical. One rule about all physical objects – whether books, bugles, or our bodies – is that they can only be in one place at a time. If they are here, they are not there. Unlike spiritual things like, say, a tune that can be on a thousand lips at the same time.

What is more, if I hear you whistling a song and I start whistling it too, I am taking nothing from you. But if I take your book, I have it and you don’t. Well, if money is physical, then the only way I can get it is by taking it. And for every dollar that I have, someone somewhere has one less. But if money is spiritual, like a tune, it is created and brought into existence afresh without taking anything from anyone else. In this spiritual model, we don’t take money, we make money.

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