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The Hope of Sequestration

Friday, 1 March, 2013 - 1:30 pm

There’s a lot of hand wringing and finger pointing happening in Washington today. Politicians are nervously shifting blame on one another as the looming reality of the sequester takes hold.

The sequester was meant to be a poison pill so bad that it would force Congress and the President to act in order to avoid it. But apparently, either the poison is not that bad or our elected officials’ willpower is that bad. The question remains as to the effect of the sequester on the economy and American society.

Perhaps a bigger question, however, is, “Can we collectively take responsibility for the financial mess?” It’s easy to fault others. But, even if you are right, it often falls short of solving the problem. Problem solving begins by taking ownership of the problem.

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One of the most infamous sins in history is the sin of the Golden Calf, described in this week’s Parsha, Ki Tisa. The misdeed is so serious that G-d wishes to destroy the entire Jewish people, save Moshe.  Eventually, G-d acquiesces to Moshe’s pleading and forgives the Jewish people.

Upon closer examination, however, the transgression does not seem as severe as it’s made out to be. The golden calf emerged from the fire miraculously, causing a real test. Aaron seemed to condone its status. Out of three million Jews only three thousand actually worshipped the idol. That is .1% of the population, certainly no reflection on the people at large. Additionally, the perpetrators were the Airev Rav, the “mixed multitude” (Egyptians who had insincerely joined the Jewish bandwagon at the Exodus). It was very easy and expedient to lay the blame at the feet of the idolatrous newcomers.

Nonetheless, this sin is treated by G-d, Moshe and the Jews themselves as a collective sin. Only after true teshuva (repentance) of the entire nation does G-d forgive them. He not only forgives them. He also grants them the second luchot (Tablets), which are loftier than the first. Through teshuva the Jews attain a deeper, more meaningful relationship with the Almighty.

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Therein may lie the secret to resolving critical challenges. Teshuva could only come about after the Jewish people collectively took ownership of the grave error. Finding a scapegoat may have absolved them from castigation. But it would not have rectified the problem.

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Our nation’s leaders may be correct in accusing others of creating the problem. They may even be correct in highlighting others’ refusal to correct the problem in a specific way.

But, if they fail to take ownership of the problem, they are all sadly doomed to fail. Poison pills, after all, are only scary if they are yours to swallow.

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Ultimately, we will need to rely on our public servants stepping up to find a fiscal path forward for our country.

But in our personal lives, we can begin taking ownership today. When we take ownership of our spiritual choices, we are destined to reach even greater heights.

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