July 2, 2020
First, I want to thank everyone for the wonderful outpouring of supportive and welcoming comments following last week’s newsletter. Your feedback, thoughts, suggestions, and even critical comments are all deeply appreciated. The Jewish Federation of San Antonio is here to listen, plan, and ensure a sustainable future for our San Antonio Jewish community, and this cannot be realized without your input and participation.
Staying on the theme of appreciation and thanks, I’d like to share a special thank you to all our service members as we prepare to celebrate a safe Independence Day this weekend, and highlight a local Jewish agency, our Jewish War Veterans of America Post 753. I recently visited with one of the elders of Post 753, and as one topic flowed into another in our casual conversation, it was the theme of brotherhood and community that kept surfacing, specifically what does it mean to have indescribable bonds like these.
In this week’s Torah portion, Chukat-Balak, we read the famous lines of Bilam the prophet who was hired to curse the Israelites, but who instead blessed them unintentionally with the words, mah tovu ohalecha Yakov, mishkenotecha Yisrael (“How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!”) Numbers 24:5.
Over the centuries our sages have tried to make sense of this bizarre unfolding of events with much discussion. but it is the great Rashi, one of our most well-known commentaries, who simply suggests that Bilam became inspired by the sight of the Hebrew encampment and was overwhelmed with its beauty and order, and individual’s support for one another. Bilam saw a community with a common cause, setting differences aside, and supporting one another for the good of the group.
Charles Darwin, in his most controversial book, The Descent of Man, presented the theory of the survival of the fittest. This clear concept of brute force and instinct to survive, no matter the circumstances, is how he explained nature selects the strongest lineage for continued survival. This theory presented an individual’s need over the tribe. The idea of winning at all costs, no matter the moral or virtuous ramifications. Yet, in the same book Darwin finds a conflicting theory that he cannot explain. When it comes to the collective group, when we look at the characteristics of the tribe, Darwin saw an opposite theory. “A tribe including many members who, from possessing in a high degree the spirit of patriotism, fidelity, obedience, courage, and sympathy, were always ready to aid one another, and to sacrifice themselves for the common good, would be victorious over most other tribes; and this would be natural selection.” (p.132)
Darwin identified that if the individuals could somehow come together and work as a unified group the “weaker” characteristics of trust, respect, and care for one another override the system and prove to help the tribe survive over time. It is this “brotherhood” that my friend of Post 753 referenced, and it is this sense of common purpose that we at the Federation want to establish for our Jewish community of San Antonio.
This weekend, as you are celebrating our country’s independence, please go to Post 753’s Facebook page and share a thank you, or simply like their page. I know they would sincerely appreciate the thought.