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Few are guilty, but all are responsible

Here in Alabama, we're just a few hours before the start of Yom Kippur and I decided to read some essays by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel - one of the greatest rabbis of the modern era and an exemplary voice for peace, justice, and tolerance.

Reading his statements about American involvement in Vietnam, I am chilled at the parallels and his condemnation of those who stand quietly by and "bear graciously other people's suffering."

I knew I had a lot to atone for before, but now, Rabbi Heschel has illuminated just how corrupt and vicious our society has become - and how many of us really "good people" aren't doing enough to stop it.

I have to let Rabbi Heschel speak for himself (he's far more eloquent than I am!), so there are a lot of quotes. I have a copy of the book "Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity" which is a collection of his speeches & essays edited by his daughter Susannah Heschel.  I'm quoting from two separate works reprinted in that book.  They aren't available online in the original sources, but I'll provide the sources at the end of the diary.

From "Required: A Moral Ombudsman"

"A military court has declared Captain Calley guilty of manslaughter and for a few days the nation was in a state of dismay.

The question which agonized many people was: Who else is guilty?
To whitewash our deeds simply by maintaining our innocence is to defy God, who hears the cry of the guiltless killed in Vietnam.
Of the many problems involved, religious leaders face a special problem.  How were such crimes possible?
Ten or twenty years ago no one would have believed that American boys could have acted in such a way.

I was a little kid during Vietnam, but I understand this outrage.  When the photos from Gitmo came out, I couldn't believe that American soldiers would ever do something like that.  Holy cow, guys (and gals)!!  We're AMERICANS! We're the good guys!

At this hour, a major lesson implied in the teaching of the ancient prophets of Israel assumed renewed validity: Few are guilty, but all are responsible
Responsibility is the capability of being called up on to answer, or to make amends, to someone for something, without necessarily being directly connected with or involved in a criminal act.

Tomorrow, I have to atone for the sin of not being loud enough, not persuasive enough, not committed enough to stop Bush & company's assault on the Constitution and the world community.  Some are guilty, but all are responsible.

If we remain silent in the face of this challenge, greater atrocities will take place in the days to come.

Here's where I got the chills.  We were warned.  Not just by Rabbi Heschel, but by other moral voices.  Even now, people defend our involvement in Vietnam and efforts to prop up other dictators around the world. Collectively, we just never learn the lessons of history.

This is from "A Prayer For Peace."  It reads like something from our High Holiday's prayer book where we confess our personal and community sins:

Most of us prefer to disregard the dreadful deeds we do over there.  The atrocities committed in our name are too horrible to be credible.  It is beyond our power to react vividly to the ongoing nightmare, day after day, night after night. so we bear graciously other people's suffering.

Oh Lord, we confess our sins, we are ashamed of the inadequacy of our anguish, of how faint and slight is our mercy.  We are a generation that has lost the capacity of outrage.  We must continue to remind ourselves that in a free society all are involved in what some are doing.  SOME ARE GUILTY, ALL ARE RESPONSIBLE

Ok, so it's almost Yom Kippur and I'm "supposed" to be feeling guilty anyway, but I've always been a firm believer that a book, essay, or even a quick conversation with a stranger sometimes happens just when you're at a place where you need to read or hear a certain message.

So I'm dedicating myself in the new year to do more.  More than just read Daily Kos & post, more than send checks to political candidates, more than just the easy stuff.

Thank you, Rabbi Heschel, I'm accepting my responsibility - as I hope we all will.

NOTE: I certainly don't mean to imply that we're a bunch of slackers on this issue, but I know that personally it's easier to feel outrage than act on outrage. Rabbi Heschel's writings gave me a good kick in the pants.  Maybe others will be similarly galvanized.

"Required: A Moral Ombudsman," United Synagogue Review, vol. 24, no 3 (Fall, 1971) pp. 4, 5, 28

A Prayer for Peace," Jewish Heritage, vol. 13 no. 3 (Fall, 1971, pp. 29, 30, 35

Originally posted to countrycat on Fri Sep 21, 2007 at 01:06 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I do apologize if this offends anyone. (15+ / 0-)

    I really don't mean that nobody has been doing anything.  I just know that I could have done more.

    And also, this diary isn't about either loving or hating John Edwards -- so it seems to be off topic today. ;->

    Yes. There ARE progressive Democrats in Alabama. Visit with us at Left in Alabama

    by countrycat on Fri Sep 21, 2007 at 01:00:50 PM PDT

  •  thank you for the Prayer (6+ / 0-)

    here is more of it -- at this link

    Help us to overcome the arrogance of power. Guide and inspire the President of the United States in finding a speedy, generous, and peaceful end to the war in Vietnam.


    Here is the experience of a child of seven who was reading in school the chapter which tells of the sacrifice of Isaac on the way to Mt. Moriah with his father. "He lay on the altar, bound, waiting to be sacrificed. My heart began to beat even faster; it actually sobbed with pity for Isaac. Behold, Abraham now lifted the knife. And now my heart froze within rue with fright. Suddenly the voice of the angel was heard: 'Abraham, lay not your hand upon the lad, for now I know that you fear God.' And here I broke out in tears and wept aloud, 'Why are you crying?' asked the rabbi. 'You know that Isaac was not killed.' And I said to him, still weeping, 'But, Rabbi, supposing the angel had come a second too late?' The rabbi comforted me and calmed me by telling me that an angel cannot come late."

    An angel cannot be late, but man, made of flesh and blood, may be.

  •  Also from Heschel (5+ / 0-)

    Here's a passage from a prayer which was quoted in Jesselyn Radack's diary last week, which I was able to source with reasonable certainty to Heschel:

    May we lie down this night in peace, and rise up to life renewed. May night spread over us a shelter of peace, of quiet and calm, the blessing of rest. There will come a time when morning will bring no word of war or famine or anguish; there will come a day of happiness, of contentment and peace. Praised be the source of joy within us, for the night and its rest, for the promise of peace.

    A pleasant thought on this Erev Yom Kippur.

  •  cat, beautiful diary (5+ / 0-)

    You should be proud.  No offense taken, of course.  

  •  Let me suggest that the outrageous acts (11+ / 0-)

    are actually the result of obedience.  Obedience is, of course, a virtue, but it has the, perhaps, unintended consequence of relieving the obedient person of culpability for the effects of his or her actions.  To the extent that obedience is the only law it guarantees that the obedient person will be always right.  The individual trades independence and autonomy with it's attendant risk of being wrong, for subordination and the certainty of being right.  The latter is obviously the operative model for our military.

    In order to augment or reinforce the obedience model, conservatives frequently inveigh against what they call "situational ethics," implying that the practitioners have no fixed or firm moral standards.  In fact this is a false representation.  What they are really inveighing against is that the moral value of an act should be judged by its effect on the object, rather than, as they prefer, the intent (obedience) of the agent.

    Sometimes the obedience model is characterized as "the ends justifying the means," but that's a bit confusing because, in retrospect, whatever result was achieved was obviously appropriate to the means used. Problematic is when the EXPECTED end or result is used to define behavior as appropriate that, from a strict moral standard, obviously isn't.  Much of the Iraq conflict is an example of intent being used to justify or define as moral acts that are blatantly evil.  Ditto for what happened in Viet Nam.

    However, guilt belongs to those who act and those who give the orders.  It does not belong to those who are unable, for whatever reason, to resist the evil. Efforts to generate a sense of guilt strike me as manipulative or designed to inhibit action. That's what guilt does, you know.  It immobilizes people, much as fear does.

    •  So maybe OUTRAGE is a better term than guilt. (4+ / 0-)

      But this is a personal reflection diary: I feel guilty that I haven't been more outraged and moved to action.

      Few may be guilty, but if you don't speak out forcefully, then you ARE in some ways responsible.  Think of all the senators who say that they haven't received much mail about Sudan, or FISA, or whatever.

      Silence gives cover because it's taken to mean assent.

      So you don't have to personally right a wrong, but you need to at least say you think it's wrong.

      Maybe I'm not making sense, but I need to go stuff myself before fasting tomorrow, so I'll quit now.

      Yes. There ARE progressive Democrats in Alabama. Visit with us at Left in Alabama

      by countrycat on Fri Sep 21, 2007 at 01:59:40 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  On Disobedience (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Psychoanalyst Erich Fromm in his book On Disobedience and other Essays wrote:

      "Human history began with an act of disobedience....Man has continued to evolve by acts of disobedience. Not only was his spiritual development possible only because there were men who dared say no to the powers that be in the name of their conscience or their faith, but also his intellectual development was dependent on the capacity for being disobedient - disobedient to authorities who tried to muzzle new thoughts and to the authority of long-established opinions which declared a change to be nonsense."

      Our collective postings are part of our evolution. Thank you countrycat.

  •  May you be sealed in the book of life. n/t (4+ / 0-)
  •  Yankee Catholic here (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mooncat, countrycat

    Wonderful diary!  You've triggered some serious introspection here.  Thank goodness it's the weekend.  Time to reflect and renew.

    "We told the truth. We obeyed the law. We kept the peace." - Walter Mondale

    by luckylizard on Fri Sep 21, 2007 at 04:22:00 PM PDT

  •  congrats on your rescue (0+ / 0-)

    may your yom kippur be meaningful and easy

    we can all, always do a bit more.  
    western protestant here,

  •  100 million US taxpayers fund a 9-11 each month. (0+ / 0-)

    There were 19 guilty one day in 2001 and they're all dead.  But about 3000 Iraqi civilians die at US hands every month and 100 million of us support it - including 50 million who even voted for Bush - with none held to account or even apologetic.  It's "a mistake" that's "not worth it" to us.  And thanks to our destruction of law enforcment in Iraq, another 6000/month die at the hands of others.  The total is over a million dead already.

    Are we unapologetic accomplices to 100 needless 9-11 magnitude attacks so far?  Negligent accessories to 200 more?

    Is it less horrifying that we've continued over 4 years rather than in just one day or 100?  Far more horrifying, given all the time we've had to think about it?

    Or do our own millions of accomplices dilute our guilt?  Certainly that's what German goyim thought in the holocaust.

    Worth considering this holiday.
    Thanks for a strong diary.

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