This is the season when Jews celebrate the creation of the universe. According to ancient wisdom, when the earth was created it had no foundation. It was unsteady, unstable. And so God created teshuvah, a word that means repentance, which is to say the human capacity to grow and to change.
As one commentator explained, “So too, the power of teshuvah is implanted in every creature, and so too, and most essentially, in human beings who are microcosms of the world.”
Teshuva is the foundation of the world. It is hard-wired into us, the remarkable capacity to assess our deeds and the opportunity to change our ways. This is what we celebrate on Rosh Hashanah.
We come together in the urgency of a New Year to do nothing less than to repair our damaged souls, rebuild our moral character, heal our broken relationships, and revive our faith and our hopes.
We also come together in the urgency of this election, as we face enormous challenges in America: to bring prosperity to the poor and middle class; to combat the corrupting relationship between big money, elections, and governance; to heal our racial divide; to remake our criminal justice system so all Americans receive equal treatment under the law; to respond with compassion to refugees, immigrants, minorities and people on the margins of society; to rebuild our crumbling roads and bridges, to repair our inequitable education system, to reduce the disparities in health care; and to reverse the looming climate crisis.
These are all major challenges to the future of our United States. None of them can be solved by any president alone. If American society is flawed, if the democratic system is broken, then each of us, as citizens, is responsible for its survival; each of us is obligated to restore it to health. Our votes count, not just the votes for President or Representative or Senator, but also the votes for City Councilor and Sheriff and Register of Deeds. Democracy depends on ensuring a moral foundation at every level of government. If the system is unfair, it is not because the system has abandoned us, but because we have abandoned it.
The great teacher Rebbe Nachman taught, “If you believe you can ruin things, then believe you can fix them.” In other words, do not despair! We flawed mortals are capable of change, and so is our country. This is the point of having elections. Just as Jews come together for the High Holy Days to work on our souls, this is a time for us all to do some tikkun, some repair, on our nation.
In the spring, a voter drive was launched by the Moral Mondays Movement. The North Carolina-based movement was highlighted nationally when Reverend William J. Barber II addressed the Democratic National Convention. Its goal is “to support state-based fusion movements to combat extremism in state and national politics, and to be a catalyst for a resurgence of political activism in order to end poverty, racial inequalities, and the most pressing issues in our country.”
Three Mondays ago, I joined a Moral Mondays procession around the Massachusetts State House on Beacon Hill, led by an interfaith delegation of 100 clergy leaders. We joined others doing the same at 27 other state capitals nationwide. Afterwards, a delegation met with Governor Baker to present the movement’s Higher Ground Moral Declaration and to proclaim the revolution here in Massachusetts.
The start of a New Year is an apt time to begin a moral revolution. Revolution and teshuvah are both turning points. Today, we need a moral revolution in our hearts. And that moral revolution should compel us to a moral revolution in how we vote and how we choose our representatives and how we govern. We need a moral revolution to root out hatred and prejudice. We need a moral revolution to say “yes” to justice and equity. The foundations of our nation and our world depend on us.