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April 24, 2014 / 24 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Robert Frost’

Why Do US Elite Believe their Country Is Evil?

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

One of the highlights of the 1961 inauguration of President John F. Kennedy, 52 years ago, was a poem by the beloved Robert Frost. That morning I had watched the new vice-president, Lyndon Johnson, leave his home down the street and a bit later watched Frost read the poem on television that snowy day, looking at the same snow outside my window a few miles away.

The poem was entitled, “The Gift Outright,” and it began:

The land was ours before we were the land’s. She was our land more than a hundred years Before we were her people. She was ours In Massachusetts, in Virginia, But we were England’s, still colonials…. That poem could not be read today and if it were the result would be attacks, condemnation, and derision.

Why? Let’s count the reasons:

–The poem defines the birth of America as based on a gift. Today it would be said to be based on theft.

–A gift from whom? The implication is from God. To claim such a thing would be seen as hubris and dangerous non-atheism.

–It claims the land during the colonial period belonged to the colonialists whereas it is assumed now that it belonged to the “Native Americans” and thus such a statement is racist.

–It identifies America with people from England which would be the kind of racist, chauvinist thinking that could not be more derided. After all, what about the slaves as well as the Native Americans?

The fact that Frost was basically correct, that America in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries arose from English settlers, that it belonged at the national level to those who became Americans, that it shaped those people in a positive way, and that the founders (who Frost is echoing in the poem) saw things in a similar way, are all deemed irrelevant.

But how can America exist as a legitimate nation if Frost’s view is condemned, even if one takes into account the country’s later direction and development?

This discussion reminds us that the hegemonic elite in the United States today has largely achieved something never done elsewhere: it has convinced itself and a large portion of the country’s youth that America’s whole history is evil. There is one other country (I’ll mention below) that has far more logically convinced most of its people to believe just one part of its history is evil. See if you can guess.

I don’t want to exaggerate here. Obviously not everyone feels that way and equally this sentiment is not applied to all things. In his second inaugural speech, President Barack Obama put forward contradictory ideas. On one hand, he tried to bridge the gap by saying that the founders were merely outdated and that he had now assumed their mantle. On the other hand, he played subtly on the evil rich white male heterosexual slaveholder theme.

So they succeed in having it both ways: America was a great idea but the way it was organized is obsolete; America has a terrible bloodstained history because it is so innately corrupted. Either way it has to be fundamentally transformed.

The patriotic trimmings when invoked by those in charge nowadays seem cynical afterthoughts for political advantage rather than sincere sentiments. This is especially true in many classrooms which are shaping the next generation. It is no accident that one of the main textbooks used was written by a genuine Communist. The left-wing fringe rhetoric of the 1960s has now become the new normal.

The main theme is that America has been unfair, racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic, a bully in the world, an oppressor of its own working class, etc. And of course it stole the land from the original inhabitants.

That country certainly sounds like a disaster. Why did its people even bother to continue such a failed experiment? Clearly it must be fundamentally transformed, no doubt.

And yet the French don’t say: How terrible is our country based on a thousand years of feudalism—nobility grinding the peasants’ faces in the mud, the bloody revolution, 25 years of aggressive war by Napoleon, decades of revolution and repression, the collapse of four republics, humiliating defeats in war, collaboration with the Nazis in World War Two, a colonial empire, and imperialist wars in Algeria and Indochina. They don’t say we are evil; our system is rotten; our souls deeply corrupted; we need fundamental transformation.

There Is No ‘Road Not Taken’

Wednesday, March 5th, 2008

         The poem “The Road Not Taken” by renowned American poet Robert Frost expresses the gnawing curiosity that a traveler knows he will always have about the road that he didn’t take. Faced with a choice, he took one over the other, and felt that made all the difference as to how his life played out.

 

         We studied this poem in school, and those of us who appreciated a well-turned phrase enjoyed the poem – but its message went pretty much over our heads. At that time in our lives, our choices were rather minor; for example, what snack to eat when we got home. We were still passengers in our parents’ journey, and their choices were automatically ours.

 

         But all too soon the message of the poem resonated, as we became adults and had to make what we thought were life-altering choices that would affect our future. We had to decide whether to go to seminary/yeshiva, or to college or work. When offered shidduchim,we had to choose whether we would marry this one or that one – or continue searching.

 

         Whatever our choices – no matter how satisfied, successful or accepting we are of the  outcome and the actuality of our lives – from time to time we wonder “What if,” “Why did/didn’t I,” “If only” etc.

 

         This is particularly true for those who regret their choices, those who spend their waking hours (including their sleepless nights) grieving, those whose conscious moments are burdened with the heavy weight of sorrow, anger, frustration and bitterness, beset with the relentless belief that they were cheated. They go through their days mired in the quicksand of regret, unable to move forward, and bogged down by useless self-recrimination for the choices they ultimately made.

 

         But they needlessly chastise themselves or those who influenced their choices, for the poem’s premise that we had another choice – the road not taken – is not a Torahdik one.

 

         This is because the path a person ultimately finds him/herself on wasn’t chosen;it was the one they were meant to be on  - as decreed by Hashem.

bn b

         Everything is bashert. It is Hashem’s will that decides our fate. It is a will that we must accept – no matter how difficult or unfair we feel our lot is. In this ongoing struggle not to question Hashem’s reasoning, it is hard to accept the sharp thorns that have pierced the peace of mind of so many members of the klal – those beset with illness or infertility, those who are alone and lonely, those who have suffered the loss of loved ones.

 

         But as I get older, I have come to understand that everything is for a reason. Just like you can’t see the forest for the trees, when you get in a helicopter and go high enough you see the whole picture. We are too low on the ground to fully comprehend Hashem’s plan.

 

         With acknowledgment that Hashem is behind the steering wheel of our journey and that the content of the days of our lives are min haShamayim comes sweet relief that we are not to be blamed for our situation – for our individual pekel was tailored for each of us.

 

         We should therefore stop blaming and berating ourselves for the “decisions” we “made.” We are wrongly taking credit for a destiny that we did not create, for that destiny was already determined before we were even born.

 

         Once you can accept that it is not your fault or the fault of your parents/friend/teacher/neighbor - that they were just agents of Hashem’s will – you can begin to move forward.

 

         For those burdened with guilt because they believe they messed up their life or that of their child, spouse, friend, etc., you are taking credit for something that isn’t yours to claim – and thus unfairly burdening yourself with razor-sharp guilt and remorse.

 

         For everything is from Shamayim!

 

         It is normal to feel angry and “robbed,” and it’s okay to spend time rehashing the past, crying and mourning, and validating your feelings of loss. It’s fine to “sit shiva,” as I call it. But then you must get up, bury your regrets in the deep recesses of your mind – and walk away.

 

         Open your eyes to the life-enhancing lessons that are Hashem’s gift to those facing challenges, and try doing a personal tikkun. Focus on tomorrow and the possibility of improving and growing as a person, for you are a valued piece of G-d’s eternal puzzle and a necessary part of His mysterious plan.

 

         One day it will be clear why you were given a particular road on which to journey.


 


         But know you are not totally without choice, for the one aspect of your life that you have control over is whether you live it b’simcha. It is your choice, and your alone to acknowledge the good in your life and accept the rest and to say with true emunah and sincerity, “gam zu l’tovah.

‘It Is What It Is’

Wednesday, June 27th, 2007

         Just the other day, I was commiserating with a close friend about how my life had not gone the way I had envisioned way back when – when I was young and my head was filled with sweet visions of what would be. My conversation was peppered with “if only” and “what if” and “why didn’t I” It was saturated with unrequited curiosity about what poet Robert Frost so aptly described as “the road not taken.” I expressed regret at some of the “roads” that I did take, the ones that lead to nowhere at best, misery at worst.

 

         My friend patiently let me vent for a few minutes, and then uttered five simple words that opened my eyes and shut me up. She said, “It is what it is.” This simple but straightforward statement had a tremendous impact on me, for its words conveyed an obvious truth – dwelling on yesterday is pointless. Deal with today, with your “now,” with the hope for a fulfilling future. What is – is! Acknowledging your reality and utilizing the resources at hand – your intelligence, your community and connections, your determination and hard work to make the best of what is currently “on your plate” – is the only way to move on. Otherwise you will be mired in sadness, weighed down by grief, immobilized by guilt – and go nowhere.

 

         While it’s good to examine one’s past in order to identify and learn from mistakes that you don’t wish to repeat, there is nothing to be gained by crying over them and getting angry at yourself or blaming others who may have influenced your bad decisions. After all, hakol min haShamayim (everything is from God) and though it is sometimes extremely difficult to understand why He designed your life this way, as religious Jews we accept that which we don’t understand. We twin that belief with the faith that it is ultimately for the best, and what doesn’t currently make any sense will one day be very clear and beneficial to us.

 

         “It is what it is” permits me to believe that the true measure of a successful life is appreciating the realities we are blessed with – good health, kind friends, a loving spouse/parents/children. Or even something as universal as opening your eyes and seeing.

 

         Chances are that as “bad” as your reality may be, and as difficult or painful the “hand you were dealt” might be, there is someone who would very gladly trade places with you in a blink. There are those who have no clue what flowers look like. They have no inkling of what “red” is. They cannot grasp the concept of a rainbow.

 

         Yet they can hear the chirping of birds, the melodious music of a symphony, the tinkle of a child’s laughter. And theirs is a blessed reality, for there are those who cannot see or hear. Yet they can walk, touch, reach and communicate. And their reality is one some would welcome, for there are those who cannot see, hear, move, or make their needs known.

 

         “It is what it is.” And all of us have the choice of mourning what is lacking in our loves, or appreciating what we have. We have the option of letting anger, resentment or sorrow permeate our daily lives, thus holding us back from enjoying what we have – or we can have feelings of hakarat hatov for “what is” and be joyful and hopefulfor that.

 

         There is nothing wrong with wanting more, with wanting it all. There is always room for improvement in our lives – a shidduch, children, better health, more parnassah - and it is natural to feel deprived, and acutely want what you feel is lacking in your life. But just as important to your well-being is being aware of, and not taking for granted, what you do have.

 

         Perhaps that is why we have so many brachot to recite. From waking up in the morning to going to the bathroom to eating, etc., Hashem, in His wisdom, wants us to constantly remind ourselves of the many good things that constitute our reality. “It is what it is,” and we should be truly grateful, feel blessed and consequently be b’simchah.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/it-is-what-it-is/2007/06/27/

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