In the weekly cycle of Torah readings, we are reading from the beginning sections of the book of Numbers. Numbers, as the name implies, begins with a census of the Hebrews as they are in the wilderness on their way to the promised land.
Why was a census necessary? According to Rashi, it shows the importance of each individual. He compares it to God and says that mitoch hibatan lifanav moneen otam kol sha’ah, because people are so dear to God, God counts them every hour.
This is a beautiful thought. We are so dear to God as human beings that God takes note of us, counts us, every hour.
As beautiful as this thought might be, there was a Hassidic Rabbi, Rabbi Yehezkel of Kotzmir who raised an issue. He said that we are not worthy of being counted in God’s eyes every hour. There are some times when we just aren’t living up to God’s expectations for us, so why would God want to count us every hour?
He answers his problem by saying that the words “every hour” refer to a statement in Pirke Avot, Ethics of the Fathers, in which we read that we should not denigrate any human being because ayn licha adam sheayn lo shah, there is no person who doesn’t have his or her “hour”. In other words, every human being has the potential to live up to God’s expectations of us, to be the mentsch we should be. Each us has an hour in which we truly deserve to be counted and God counts us according to the hour in which we reach that goal. God sees in us potential for being a human being in the greatest sense of that term.
This is reflective of our tradition of teshuva: of repentance. We can always improve. We can always rise up to being the people we should be. We can always respond to the situation in front of us and make that particular hour great.
Needless to say, we find ourselves in a very difficult, heartbreaking hour in this nation.. We have seen the murder of George Floyd, another person in the long list of people of color killed, injured or abused by law enforcement officials. We have witnessed the breaking up of a peaceful protest in front of the White House with tear gas and other means so that the President could have a photo op holding a Bible. We have seen injury and property damage as a result of rage, anger and frustration.
We have seen once again the undeniable evidence that we, as a nation, have not lived up to our stated values of equality and justice for all. Racism and inequality continue to plague this nation. Yes, there has been progress in some areas but, overall, we have never been able to remove the stain of bigotry and inequality that has been part of our nation since our inception.
But, as we look at this hour of sadness and pain, there is an opportunity. So many voices are being raised. So many people are joining hands to recognize the pain and commit to working together. There is an opportunity to have the voices we hear and the pain that we are feeling inspire us to teshuva, to repentance. We have the power as a nation to turn this into a “good hour”.
God only knows we have had enough time to address issues of inequality. So many times, we have started the discussion, began to confront the issue and then found ourselves either distracted by other issues or satisfied with small steps of progress.
This can’t happen this time.
Our nation is at a crossroads and it will fall to all of us to work together to make real change in this nation. We must start by listening to each other and understanding that the pain and the frustration voiced by people of color has been building for centuries and that if we are to truly be the nation we want to be, we must embrace each other and work together for change.
I know that in one sense, these are easy words to say and to write and, I will admit, they can sound hollow because they have been written many times before by many people over the years. But, for so many reasons, it seems that this is a vital moment in our nation’s history. We have to choose a different path than we have been following. We need to change to become a nation in which all people enjoy the benefits of freedom, security and opportunity.
There is a beautiful legend about Moses. He brings the people to the edge of the sea. He hears the Egyptian army advancing and he does not know what to do. He turns to God in prayer.
And God stops him in the middle of the prayer and says: Moses, there is a time for prayer and a time for action. Ayn Hasha’ah mitzapah elah lach, the hour waits only for you. Move the people forward.
So it must be said. At this time: Ayn Hasha’ah mitzapah elah lanu.
The hour waits only for us.
All of us together.