Sunday, September 8, 2019

Ki Tetze (Wolves)

This week’s Torah portion, Ki Tetze contains more mitzvot/commandments than any other.  While they cover a wide array of subjects, most are concerned with the creation of holy and equitable community, laying out the details of our individual obligations and responsibilities toward this end.

One of these commandments lies at the heart of all the rest; it is the most cited in the Torah, occurring at least thirty-six times, including here, in Deuteronomy 24: You shall not deprive a resident stranger or an orphan of justice; you shall not take a widow’s garment in pledge. Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the Holy One redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this.

Nelson Mandela understood this when he taught: “A Nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.”  This is why the Torah—and the entire prophetic tradition that follows—is so adamant about the treatment of our most vulnerable community members, as exemplified in biblical times by widows, orphans and strangers. 
Alas, 2019 America badly flunks this test.  The gap between rich and poor has become an abyss, racism and misogyny are given a governmental seal of approval, and immigrant children are separated from their parents and kept in cages along our southern border.  Those who care about justice, as Torah demands, have an enormous amount of work to do.
My favorite Americana band, Mandolin Orange, speak to this challenge in the song “Wolves”, from their 2019 album Tides of a Teardrop.  It begins with a vision of what our nation should be:
At my gate I'll always greet you
At my door you're welcome in
There can be no transgression
As a means to an end

This contrasts with our current reality:
On the wind the wolves are howling
Open arms are closed in fear
Helping hands are clenched in anger
Broken hearts beyond repair

The chorus offers a bitter, sarcastic take on “Make America Great Again”:
Everything's so great can't get better, makes me wanna cry

The final two verses portray the Statue of Liberty—the embodiment of America at its best—watching in shame as the dream is devoured by the wolves of hatred that currently wield the power:
There she stands, so tall and mighty
With her keen and watchful eye
And the heart of a mother
Holding out her guiding light
It's a hard road to travel
Solid rock from end to end
The sun, it rises on her brow
And sets upon the great expanse

There she stands, so tall and mighty
Her gaze facing the east
At her back our doors are closing
As we grin and bare our teeth
On the wind the wolves are howling
She cries to draw near
Turn around, turn around my darling
Oh, the wolves are here

We end, like the wolves, howling at the moon. 

Yeah, I’ll go out howling at the moon tonight.

It seems futile.  But howl we must, and if we howl long and loud enough, together, the national nightmare will eventually end and we might, again, make some strides toward the vision that Torah holds out for us.

To hear Mandolin Orange performing “Wolves”:

1 comment:

B2 said...

Thank you so much again, Maestro. Mandolin Orange is another major note in the music you play every day.