Speech by Rabbi Daniel Lapin
Friday night, August 27th, 2010
Glenn Beck’s Divine Destiny Event, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Thank you David Barton and thank you Glenn Beck….yes, thank you so very much for making it possible for me to be here with you all tonight while still observing my Sabbath. [APPLAUSE] God does not permit me to employ electronic amplification of my voice between sunset on Friday and Saturday night so I thank you all for letting me speak to you this evening without using a microphone and I’ll do my best now to make sure that you all can hear me clearly.
Glenn, I have often heard you speak of the great 18th century preacher, George Whitefield, who helped bring about that first great reawakening which gave birth to our war of independence. Benjamin Franklin wrote of seeing George Whitefield delivering a speech to 20,000 people. Now this was at a time when Philadelphia was America’s largest city with a total population of about 50,000. So George Whitfield spoke to nearly half the population of Philadelphia all at once out of doors—without a microphone.
In 1858 Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln held a debate out of doors in Freeport Illinois. Over 15,000 people listened to that debate. Ladies and Gentleman, I am no George Whitefield and I am neither Stephen Douglas nor Abraham Lincoln. In fact I don’t reach up to the ankles of those men. However you are exactly the same patriotic God-fearing Americans that Whitefield addressed back in the 18th century and you are the same people that listened to Lincoln and Douglas in the 19th century. As you heard those great speakers with no amplification out of doors back then, so will you hear this lesser speaker tonight without amplification indoors. [APPLAUSE]
So let me start by extending my blessings to you all for a Sabbath of joy, peace, and fulfillment, and I shall use the ancient formulation of the Lord’s language, of Hebrew….I wish you all a Shabat Shalom. [APPLAUSE] Now, I hope you’ll excuse me for making this request of you. I cannot stop myself from telling you how much I one day would like to tell my grandchildren of the Friday night when thousands of Christians simultaneously wished me a Shabbat Shalom. [SHABAT SHALOM RABBI—APPLAUSE]
One of the timeless truths and permanent principles of ancient Jewish wisdom is what I call the Severed Flower. This means that when I cut a beautiful fragrant flower off its plant in my garden and bring it indoors, I seem to have done a clever and good thing. No longer do I have to step outside and brave the weather in order to be able to enjoy the bright colors and intoxicating fragrance of my flower—it is right there in a vase on my desk.
However, as the next day dawns, I notice that the flower is not quite as colorful as it was yesterday and its perfume is harder to detect. After a few more hours, I am disappointed to discover that the flower is now faded and shriveled. Its sisters out there on the plant are still as magnificent as ever. I have discovered the sad secret of the severed flower.
My friends, the fragrant flower of American culture is frighteningly fragile. As long as it remained connected to its roots of Judeo-Christian values and Biblical tradition, all was well. About fifty years ago there began a frenzied and feverish process of severing America from its roots. That process of secularization of our culture continues in our day with undiminished fervor. At first it appeared to be very clever. No longer were we confined by the rules and restraints of religion. No longer did we have to think of cosmic right and wrong. We were the severed flower and we thought we were so colorful and so fragrant.
But, little by little we began to shrivel and gradually we began to fade. Yes, there is sadly no question that during the past 50 years, since say 1960, life in America has become indescribably more expensive, more squalid and more dangerous. Yet one great distinction stands between a flower and our American culture….we can be reattached to our religious roots [APPLAUSE] We can return, restore, and redeem. [APPLAUSE]
There are three main areas in which those religious roots nurtured and sustained us.
The first is marriage. Could anyone really suppose that marriage evolved naturally? And who would have thought of it first, anyway? A man or a woman? Just think of what happens today. Men are happy to date for eleven years. It is never the man who says, “Darling, don’t you think we ought to be thinking about our future” This is nearly always the woman. So what might have happened? Since it wouldn’t have been a man, perhaps it was an early stone age woman who came up to a man and said, “I have this great idea—why don’t we create a thing I’ve thought up called a marriage?” He says, “What’s marriage” She says, “it’s like this…you stop looking at any other women and when I have a baby, you take care of us…hey, c’mon back…I’m not finished talking” and the guy takes off over the horizon in a cloud of dust. [LAUGHTER]
Clearly marriage has its roots in God’s Biblical blueprint. Without the first few chapters of Genesis, few would be getting married or staying married. Surely, we can all see that as faith has diminished in America, so has the strength and stability of marriage and family. But we can restore it and we can reattach the flower to the root. [APPLAUSE]
The second area in which our religious roots sustained and nurtured us was money. Without the spiritual lens of faith, we inevitably tend to view money as something quite physical. Now one rule about all physical objects whether they be books, bugles, or our bodies—they can only be at one place at a time. If they are here, they are not there. Unlike spiritual things like, say, a tune which can be on a thousand lips at the same time. What is more, if I hear you whistling a song and I start whistling it too, I am taking nothing from you. But if I take your book, I have it and you don’t. Well, if money is physical, then the only way I can get it is by taking it. And for every dollar that I have, someone somewhere has one less. But if money is spiritual, like a tune, it is created and brought into existence afresh without taking anything from anyone else. In this spiritual model, we don’t take money, we make money.
Look, ladies and gentlemen, let me put it this way, if you didn’t mug a little old lady and steal her pocket book, if you didn’t hold up a convenience store, and if you didn’t persuade the government to take money from someone else and give it to you, then the only way you got that dollar in your pocket is that you pleased another human being. I don’t know if it was a customer, your boss, a client, or whoever but you must have pleased someone who gave you that dollar willingly because they valued whatever you gave them or did for them as more than a dollar. In other words, your dollars are symbols of the acts of kindness you did for other people. Without this spiritual vision, we’d never realize the importance of private ownership of property. Without the Bible to teach us the idea of charity and how there is little virtue required to give away other people’s money, we would never have learned that wealth is only created by means of a system that allows people to own that which is theirs. Without the Bible, we would all be living in equalit
y—equal poverty that is. [APPLAUSE]
After Marriage and Money, Manners is the third “M” area in which the Bible anchors us to our roots. You see, everything that we consider to be good manners comes from the first chapter of Genesis. Let us check up to see if your mothers went to the same mothering school that mine did. What did your mothers say when you noisily slurped your soup? That’s right, don’t eat like an………….[ANIMAL!!!] Perfect—just as I supposed. Our mothers all went to the same Judeo Christian mothering school which taught that good manners is not behaving like an animal because the good Lord created us as a unique and distinct species unlike every other animal—we are touched by the finger of God. Behaving like an animal is to violate that gift and erode the separateness that God gave us from the animal kingdom. For this reason we don’t make noises like animals, we don’t scratch ourselves in public like baboons, and yes, we don’t eat like animals.
Our lives are immeasurably improved by living in a society where marriage is the crucible of the next generation, where money is created and wealth possible, and where human interaction is lubricated by manners and civility. Severed from our Judeo-Christian roots we risk losing all that and everything which flows from it. Now more than ever, we must reconnect the severed flower so our civilization can be saved.
Let me leave you with three requests. Number one, I ask you to devote a little more time than you are now giving, to reading and studying the Bible. For us Jews, Talmud Torah, the study of the Torah is paramount. Doing so is uplifting and inspirational, and it fuels your personal transformation in ways we cannot perfectly understand. Few of us fully understand how jet fuel gets transformed into thrust and how thrust gets transformed into what aeronautical engineers call lift so an airplane stays aloft while rapidly flying through the air, but this does all occur because of jet fuel. Well, a little time each day devoted to the fuel of the Good Book can keep you airborne and fast moving too.
Number two, I ask you to try and make a little more money this year than you did last year. Remember that it is not possible to make money without giving other people the goods and service they need and want. The more money you make, the better life is going to be for me and for all our fellow citizens anywhere near your orbit. There is another reason too….In our culture as it is at present, people listen more to those who have a few dollars than to those who don’t. As King Solomon said in Proverbs 14:24, the crown of the wise is their wealth. I would like to see God’s people with the crowns of wealth necessary for them to become citizens of great influence.
Finally, I ask us all to include in our prayers, a little extra prayer for the United States of America. So much depends upon us restoring her honor, and so much depends upon us reconnecting the severed flower to its roots. Thank you all Ladies and Gentlemen for your kind attention and thank you David Barton and thank you Glenn Beck for helping us all see our Divine Destiny. [APPLAUSE]