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Focus on the Horizon

Focus on the Horizon

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Since Communism’s collapse, the United States of America remains the world’s primary superpower. This is a tribute to our nation’s past, an affirmation of the values and principles that made our country great. It also points up our responsibility toward the future. People across the world are taking their cues from America.

Some mistakenly point to our military strength and affluence as factors commanding the world’s attention. Yet, our primary strength lies not in our rockets and missiles, but in the health and vitality of our society. While we must be grateful for the blessings of security and prosperity, the reason people all over the world still dream of living in America is because of the many opportunities it affords.

Our society gives every person a chance to grow and fulfill his potential without many of the artificial restraints found in many other countries. This, and not wealth and security alone, is what people genuinely desire.

In order to maintain its front-runner status, our society must look to its source. America’s growth wasn’t accidental, but the natural result of the Founding Fathers’ wish to build a society based on self-evident truths woven by G‑d into the very fabric of existence. As long as we focus on these values, we will advance, for the interrelation of life and growth is one of these self-evident truths. Should we choose to ignore these truths and indulge in selfish materialism, devouring the fruit of our parents’ labor without planting new trees, we will grow fat and decline.

The choices we make will influence our future and that of the entire world. In creating today’s global village, America has exported not only her goods and “know how”, but also her values. The world waits to see if our message is to pursue the easy gratification promoted by our pop culture, or to abide by the basic principles that have built our nation’s character. Simply put, is all that we are selling Coca-Cola and Rock music.

America was founded on principles of justice, freedom, tolerance, generosity and hard work. Each plays a vital role in establishing the balance necessary for any society to prosper. In the short run, we can fool ourselves into thinking otherwise, but since these virtues are part of the world’s framework as G‑d intended, we ignore them at our peril!

The Hebrew word for truth is אמת. The alef, the first letter of the word, is the first letter of the alphabet. Mem, the word’s middle letter is the middle letter of the alphabet, and suf, the last letter of the word is the final letter of the alphabet. This implies that top-to-bottom integrity is a hallmark of Truth.

Some believe that, for the sake of expediency, these principles may be sacrificed temporarily and readopted later. Others argue for a temporary abdication of responsibility. “Let’s just relax for a moment,” such voices clamor. “We’ll get serious again later.” History shows that these approaches simply do not work.

Falsehood can never become the truth. Injustice will breed only injustice, and irresponsibility will never lead to its opposite. No building can stand on shifting sands.

The only way for a society to make lasting progress is to build from a foundation that is just, honest and true, and to proceed according to those principles. If such a society should ever forget its roots, the appearance of prosperity may last for a while, but at the cost of its future. For a seedless field will not yield crops, and when weeds are sown, that is what will blossom.

And so, when we think of rising to meet the expanding opportunities of the millennium, we must appreciate that this growth cannot be achieved while abandoning all the values that made America strong. Its foundation of G‑d-given truths is what gave America the strength to blossom into greatness: only remaining loyal to those truths will enable this greatness to continue.

A child once asked his father why we have two eyes.

“One,” the father said, “should be used to look rigorously at oneself and at one’s conduct and the other to see the good in others.”

This focus on our own values should not be a narrowing influence. A nation should never isolate itself, but instead extend its influence to other countries, offering cooperation and assistance. This is simply a reflection of the current reality: no country can exist as a self-contained entity in today’s world.

There is, however, a deeper philosophical reason for this approach. G‑d created the world to function as a single, integrated entity. Just as within any given society, stability and growth derive from the uniting of different approaches, so too the world was meant to function as one interrelated, multifaceted system.

Earlier generations failed to tap the environment’s full potential, so it might have seemed that nations could exist independently. In today’s global village, this illusion can no longer be maintained. Every nation has natural and human resources that will realize their greatest dividends only when combined with those of other nations.

Thus, when a nation tries to cut itself off from the world, it will suffer manifold losses. Not only will it find such “splendid isolation” impossible to maintain (since global trade and finance are now as indispensable to national life as blood is to human existence), but it will suffer the stigma of having tried to cut itself off from the international community. More importantly, the ideal of world unity, which is at long last within sight, will be pushed farther away.

G‑d blessed America with its prominence and wealth for a reason: so it would spread this wealth (and the values that spawned it) throughout the world. Emulating G‑d’s generosity by reaching out to others is one way to show our gratitude for the kindness and prosperity He has granted us.

It is true that some underdeveloped countries do not respond to American generosity in the way one might expect. We should not, however, react by cutting ourselves off from them. Instead, we should view their relapses into dictatorship, corruption and oppression as signs of political immaturity, and continue reaching out.

Of course, our generosity should be tempered by restraint. Like a parent or teacher dealing with a recalcitrant child, we must mix gentleness with firmness. But we should persist in offering a helping hand to other nations, since this will ultimately benefit everyone. Just as nurturing the health of the entire body improves the functioning of each limb, so too, any contribution to the betterment of humanity will yield dividends to the contributor.

All is controlled by Divine Providence. If we are aware of a need arising somewhere in the world, we can safely assume that we have been granted this awareness for a purpose — to deal with it.

The ability to help others flows from our own integrity. Just as the best instruction a parent or teacher can give is his own personal example, so too, the manner in which one country influences another stems from its own lifestyle and culture.

Parents and teachers who try to hide their own character defects from their children and students will always fail. Ultimately, the “real” person rises to the surface.

Similarly, in our global village, to truly champion the principles of freedom and justice, America must itself serve as the paradigm of these principles. Thus, the education provided to our youth must instill in them the basic principles of our heritage. This is vital, not only on the domestic front, but in our foreign relations.

For almost two decades, every year, Congress has passed (and the President signed) a bill declaring one day “Education Day,” a day to be used to mark the importance of the Seven Universal Laws granted to Noah and his descendants. This bill is enacted by legislators every year, regardless of their party affiliation.

Its repercussions are being felt everywhere. Other countries are following America’s lead, and setting aside a day to recognize the importance of education and the observance of the Noahide Laws.

Yet, it is on the personal level that these laws are most powerful. For it is within our lives that the influence creates real change.

Every element in the universe has been scientifically proven to be interconnected. The movement of a butterfly on one continent can begin a chain reaction leading to major climatic changes on another. If this is true scientifically, it is certainly true sociologically.

When a person gets a handle on his life and increases the justice, truth, and virtue in his own conduct, his actions send ripples through the community, and his example is emulated. For good breeds good, and people respond to positive change. This leads to more all-encompassing effects, as one candle kindles another and the growing light illuminates ever-larger spheres.

The nature of light is such that it spreads outward. Unless a barrier is placed in its way, it will continue to disperse. Any light, even a tiny glimmer, dispels a vast amount of darkness.

Simple examples abound: the person who backs into a neighbor’s car and leaves a note, or the businessman who returns money when a client has overpaid on a bill. There’s no question that the recipient (and anyone who hears) of such honesty will be impressed. Every action causes a reaction... indeed, a chain reaction.

Today’s information revolution is accelerating this process. We have direct access to people on distant shores, and our thoughts and deeds have a clear effect on their lives.

We must wear “mental bifocals” to both expand and concentrate on our horizons. Our efforts should center on the spheres over which we have direct control: ourselves, our marriages, our children and communities. In these areas, we can see the direct result of our efforts. By improving ourselves, we improve the world.

Some people enjoy holding forth on topics of monumental significance: the national debt or nuclear disarmament. They can deliver a rousing speech to deafening applause, but the process ends there, because these orators can do nothing about the matter. They’re just letting off steam — energy which could be put to better use. These speechmakers aren’t concerned with changing their environment; they just want to feed their egos or release pent-up emotions.

Devarim betalim, idle chatter, is considered a sign of a flawed character by Jewish Sages. The Rebbe often emphasized that the term chosen by our Sages is significant. The topic of conversation could be worthy, but if the words are “idle,” if they do not produce a positive change in our conduct, then they are indicative of a character flaw.

A person who wants to bring about change expends effort in a way that counts. He creates a positive example which others seek to emulate. He communicates with those whose lives he can influence. He connects with his friends not merely to relax, and shares more than shoptalk with his fellow workers and associates. His friendships involve the sharing of ideals and principles, the doing of things that are not merely fun, but which add meaning and depth to life.

When this exemplar sees someone about business, it is with the knowledge that their meeting is intended to help each grow in their service to G‑d. And so, with tact and sensitivity, he speaks about the greater purpose, and the laws which G‑d ingrained in our existence.

This approach will engender respect. Today, many people live lives devoid of meaning. When they see someone whose actions reflect purpose and direction, they are attracted to him.

Our exemplar can endow all who cross his path with lasting gifts of meaning and substance. Thus the microcosm will affect the macrocosm. Perfecting one’s little acre will go some way toward perfecting the world at large.

Significantly, Maimonides completes his summary of Jewish law, the Mishneh Torah, with an explanation of the Seven Universal Laws, and a description of the coming of Mashiach. These seven laws reflect G‑d’s blueprint for harmony, peace and justice among men. As this blueprint is achieved, the world will be nudged closer to its ultimate purpose — the era of Mashiach.

Maimonides says that Mashiach “will perfect the entire world, [motivating all the nations] to serve G‑d together,” and further: “in that era, there will be neither famine nor war, neither envy nor competition, for good things will flow in abundance and... the occupation of the entire world will be solely to know G‑d.”

Judaism explains that rewards are given “measure for measure.” It thus follows that the perfection of the world to be achieved by Mashiach will come about as a result of many people doing their part to perfect their environment. This perfection can be achieved through the observance of the Seven Universal Laws.

These concepts have acquired additional relevance in our current situation. The twelfth of Maimonides’ 13 Principles of Faith states:

“I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Mashiach. Even if he delays, I will wait for him every day.”

For indeed, the world as it will be in Mashiach’s time — a society in which mankind will live in peace, harmony and prosperity — is the purpose of Creation, and this purpose can now be brought to fruition. In previous eras, however, the coming of Mashiach was an ideal so divorced from everyday reality that most looked upon it as a pious dream, but not as a real principle for life. Today, the backdrop for hiscoming has already been created, and it is only our spiritual shortcomings that keep it from becoming a reality.

Consider: The world now produces enough food to eliminate all hunger, but this age-old plague persists because of political factors.

Now, there is a revolution in biotechnology unfolding before our very eyes. In the Talmud, our Sages speak of the earth producing garments and ready-made pastries in the era of Mashiach. A biotechnician might view this as an oversimplification, but tubers are being grown that can produce fabrics more cheaply than synthetics. Fruits are being bred for more wholesome flavor, and strains of popcorn are being developed with a natural buttered taste. Crops are being produced that can grow almost anywhere. And it is really only the self-interest of a few that is stopping this cornucopia from becoming accessible to all mankind.

But the picture is brightening. Swords are being beaten into ploughshares. The leading industrialized nations have come to realize that war is too expensive, potential losses too great, and other needs too pressing. Defense budgets are being cut and the freed resources are being directed toward agricultural and social reform.

With the fall of Communism, liberty and freedom are gradually becoming the accepted norm throughout the community of nations. We have a true global village, as instant communication links people everywhere, even in Antarctica!

Is this not Messianic?

What then remains that is not Messianic? Mankind.

Maimonides states: “There is no difference between the current age and the era of Mashiach except the subjugation [of Israel] to the [gentile] kingdoms.” For in the Messianic era, all the material dimensions of our existence will continue. What then will change? We will!

Ours is a time of transition, and as in all such times, the peace of mind that comes from knowing where one is going must arise from within, from the bedrock of personal values and principles. Thus, it is not surprising that in our society, people are awakening spiritually and seeking to relate to G‑d.

Our challenge is to be honest in that search, and not to compromise our values for personal gain or immediate gratification. Nor may our search be selfish, cut off from the others around us. Instead, we must reach out and share our insights with them.

By living with the Redemption — anticipating the knowledge, harmony and peace of the Messianic era in our daily lives — we can precipitate the spread of these values throughout the world.

One Sunday shortly before suffering the stroke that prevented him from speaking, the Rebbe was visited by a CNN news team as he distributed dollars for charity. The reporter asked him if he had a message to share with others.

The Rebbe replied that he wished to emphasize the imminence of the Redemption, and that each of us can bring it closer by increasing our deeds of goodness and kindness.

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