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Unfinished, not broken

01/20/2021 05:08:37 PM


Rabbi Brent Spodek

There is a painful, tragic gap between who we are and who we imagine ourselves to be. 

We stand in that gap as individuals, we stand in that gap as families, and we stand in that gap as a nation. 

We see ourselves as fit, yet the scale tells us otherwise. 

We see ourselves as kind, yet the pain in our loved ones eyes tells us otherwise.

We see ourselves as just, yet protest in the streets tells us otherwise. 

Some fools, drunk on their own narcissism, insist that they are, in fact, exactly as they imagine themselves to be, and it is the mechanisms of feedback that are wrong - the scale is broken, my wife is just crazy, the protestors are Communist stooges. 

Other fools, drunk on their own despair, insist that the persistence of the gap means that effort is futile. Since perfection eludes us, progress is at best a mirage, at worst, pablum which blunts efforts towards the glorious revolution, when all will be as it should. 

During the inauguration this morning, I wept at the words of the incredible poet Amanda Gorman, who said “we’ve witnessed a nation that isn't broken, but simply unfinished.”

To be sure, often in the past four painful years, it has seemed that the country was irredeemably broken. There can be a relief of sorts, in declaring something broken - we can toss it in the bin and start anew. Grab a new sheet of paper, replace the faulty item, marry a new partner - and this time, we’ll get it right. Sometimes, in fact, that is exactly what we need to do. 

More often than not, though, there is no starting over - we have to work with what we have. We can’t trade in our kids, or our parents, for a better model, we can’t so easily move to a “better” country, and most painful of all, I’m stuck being me, even in those moments when I desperately wish to be someone - anyone - else. 

When the prophet Isaiah calls us to “mend the breach,” he is calling us to stand in that gap between who we are and who we hope to be and strive, not to be perfect, but to be better. Better is incredibly hard, and perfect is nothing but a cop-out we use to avoid that hard work.

I am not the man I wish I was, and yet I have no choice but to get up, give thanks to the Holy One for entrusting me with another day, and try to be a little bit better. 

Our families and communities are not all that we hope they might be, and yet we have no choice but to responsibly learn from our mistakes, seek wise counsel and try to be a little bit better. 

This country is not all that it might be - the American reality has never reached the American ideal. But we are not broken, simply unfinished. We are an unfinished nation made up of unfinished people living in unfinished communities. 

President Biden and Vice President Harris are not perfect, nor could they possibly be, nor should we expect them to be. They are political leaders, not messiahs.

I pray that they succeed in their efforts to make our country better, and we all succeed in our efforts to make our lives better. 

I am beyond grateful though, that they will stand in the breach and advance, rather than impede, the work of making America not perfect, but better. 

Mon, March 1 2021 17 Adar 5781