Through the Windows of Yesterday

A Rosh Hashanah Sermon
by Rabbi Benjamin H. Englander
September 1960

The new year in Jewish tradition bears the name of "Yom Hazikaron -- Day of Remembrance," a day deeply significant for its import and its message. The Day of Remembrance -- a day on which we pause in our world journey and, for once, throw a backward glance to survey the scenes and the stations we left behind us; the day on which we pause to take measure of our triumphs and defeats, our losses and our trophies; the day on which our heads turn back as we gaze upon the passing landmarks of time through the windows of the yesterdays, and get a sense of direction for the tomorrows yet to come. Like a telescope penetrating the atmosphere to the distant stars, history expands the vision of man to his distant past. It enables him to span the ages, and links him with the living events of former days and past generations.

Thus, as we look through the windows of yesterday -- the year just past, 5720 -- we see the shambles of a stillborn Summit Conference and the ruins of a long, fruitless, Geneva Disarmament Discussion. Both were wrecked by the ruthlessness of an irreconcilable foe. The muck and the rubble are still to be cleaned up. We still hear the rumblings of the volcano which led to these destructions.

It reminds us of a parable attributed to Churchillian origin which tells us of the "Animal Disarmament Conference." The animals opened the conference with a proposal from the eagle, with an eye on the bull, that all horns should be shorn. The bull, with the tiger in mind, proposed that all claws be cut short. The tiger, glaring at the elephant, expressed the opinion that tusks should be pulled out or at least shortened; the elephant, looking at the eagle, wanted all wings clipped; whereas the bear broke up the conference with the proposal for universal disarmament: "Why all the halfway measures? Let all weapons be done away with so that nothing remains in the way of a fraternal, all-embracing hug!

The heart of the problem for disarmament is not so much the eradication or the elimination of the implements of war, as the removal of its causes!

Khruschev quoted Isaiah in his famous proposal for total disarmament. This, in itself, is a very unusual accreditation of the authority of the Bible by one who represents the social order which led to its sublimation. "And they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks!" -- however, we overlook the cause and effect which the Prophet presents. They will not disarm in order to bring peace, but because they will no longer have any use for weapons of war!

"Nation shall not lift up sword against nation -- v'lo yilm'du od milchamah -- and they will not learn war any more." And as the Prophet Micah expresses it, "but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and none shall make them afraid."

First, war is abolished. Then, weapons proving fruitless, they are returned to peaceful purposes.

Old Greek literature speaks of the House of Artreus: "The thirst for blood -- it is in their flesh. Before the old wound can be healed, there is fresh blood flowing." The Council of Vienna, the League of Nations, even the United Nations remind us of Cadmus, the founder of Thebes, in Greek mythology who first had to fight and kill a terrible dragon who slew all his companions. Alone, he could not found the city so the goddess Athena told him to sow the earth with dragon teeth. To his terror, he saw armed men spring up from the furrows. They paid no attention to him, but turned upon each other until all were killed except five whom Cadmus induced to become his helpers.

WE SLEW THE DRAGONS OF ABSOLUTISM AND DICTATORSHIP only to SOW THEIR TEETH AND BEGET A HARVEST OF DISCORD AND MISUNDERSTANDING! Reinhold Niebuhr, the outstanding Christian theologian of our day, recently wrote: "Unhappily, we must take for granted that the present precarious peace can probably be preserved only by maintaining a tolerable balance of nuclear weapons."

I submit that NOT disarmament is the crux of our problem, but the ART OF COEXISTENCE -- of living together and tolerating one another without seeking to subordinate or sublimate. Conquest of the world was always the aim of rising powers: Macedonia under Alexander the Great sought world peace through world domination. The Caesars instituted "Pax Romana," the Roman dream for universal peace which would be realized through Roman conquest. The supremacy of the white man taught by the British Empire was to insure peace eternally. The Bismarckian ambitions of the Emperor Wilhelm to secure peace in Europe by extending the German Empire from the Rhine to Baghdad. This was followed by the Third German Reich and the Hitler holocaust. Today, Communism seeks peace through conquest, and even the benevolence of the United States is a form of "capturing" people to our way of life.

Thus, we find ourselves between two antagonistic forces, each seeking to dominate the world in the name of PEACE: either in an all-embracing bear's hug, or under the shadow of the spreading wings of the eagle. Whereas what the world most needs today is a recognition of God as the Ruler or man and a reaffirmation that all men are crated equal and enjoy the same rights to determine their destiny.

Our own Dr. Louis Finkelstein, Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, recently had occasion to say, "There is a cry abroad for more scientists, engineers, and inventors to help us keep pace with the Soviets in power. But I want to suggest that an even more urgent and important need exists for which all men with vision might well cry: 'for men of stature and significance, of dedication and of love for God and man, who can translate the words of the Prophets into the policies of the nations!'

What a great summit meeting looms ahead of us once our nation has risen to the challenge of the times, and can bargain not on terms on which -- even if we win -- we lose, but on those on which we -- even if we are beaten -- we win! What a glorious summit conference in which the representatives of the free world would argue with their opponents not simply about political and military advantages, about who can more easily destroy the other; but about who is helping make men free, significant, worthy of their great privilege as children and creatures of God!

The prophetic approach to peace is universal justice -- individual righteousness and human fellowship: let these conditions be established, and the ambitions for permanent peace will be there. It will mean a society devoted to the improvement of the individual, to the improvement of the common lot of society, to the improvement of the world at large -- rather than to the exploitation of the many for the sake of the few, or of the weak nations for the sake of the strong. Such disposition will make unnecessary mighty armies, secret treaties, and shrewd diplomacy. The way to peace is not through threats and counter-threats. It will not be attained with larger, more effective Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles and weapons of destruction. The way to peace is a sincere desire to live with one another. Yea, it will bring nearer the day of which the Prophets dreamed: the day of universal godliness and peace. "V'timloch atah hashem levad'chah al kol ma'asechah -- And Thou alone, O Lord, wilt rule over all Thy creations."

"There will be a breaking up of swords
When the new morning makes us whole."







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