How to Live Up to America's Mission Statement


This week we celebrated July 4th, and much like Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel’s independence day), I use Independence Day to check in on the countries that I love so much and hold them up through the lens of their declarations on independence. And the question that always arises for me is, "How close are we to achieving our mission statements laid out in our declarations?" This year wasn’t a kind assessment of where our country stands. 

Our declaration reads: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

But what happens when the law of the land, when the ideals laid out in our declaration for Life, Liberty & the pursuit of happiness, (i.e. our mission statement), don’t match up with our morals and standards. This week our Torah answers that question.

This week we read the story of Mahlah, Noa, Hoglah, Milkah & Tirtza. These 5 proto-feminist women answer this question for us: Stand up, speak up, don't let that feeling in your kishkes pass by without doing anything. When their father Zelophehad dies, the law of the land dictates that their closest male relative should receive his inheritance. But the five daughters say, “WAIT. We want to keep our father’s name alive. Let us receive his inheritance.” And Moses takes their plea to God, and God immediately responds, “They’re correct. Change the law.”

And so, with us. When we celebrate the declaration of independence every year, we should be celebrating our ideals while also asking ourselves, "How have we not lived up to our mission statement? What doesn’t feel right in our kishkes?" Under every president in history, this exercise would yield areas for us to improve, to do better, to stand up, to speak up, to change what doesn’t feel right.

And as we enter Shabbat this evening, I ask you to reflect on a Hasidic teaching by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson: "If you see what needs to be repaired and how to repair it then you have found a piece of the world that God has left for you to complete. But if you only see what is wrong and what is ugly in the world, then it is you yourself that needs repair.”

Life oscillates and often we meditate/reflect/pray in an effort to repair ourselves, to become aware of our shortcomings or to fill holes in our hearts. But the end goal of this meditation/reflection/prayer is not to become whole simply for our own sake. Our goal is to become whole so that we can fix the piece of the world that the universe/God left for us to complete. As we pray this evening, I ask you to meditate on this question: What is the piece of the world that the universe/God left for you to complete? And how will you be like Mahlah, Noa, Hoglah, Milkah and Tirza in willing the change you wish to see in the world?

Im tirzu, ein zo agadah.
If you will it, it is no dream.

Shabbat Shalom