Last month I quoted Gandhi on inner guidance. “For me, he wrote, “the Voice of God, of Conscience, of Truth or the Inner Voice or the still small Voice mean one and the same thing.”
The Torah reading for the week just ending underscores the same truth, exhorting the people to follow what they know deep inside, choosing life. This is Deuteronomy 30:11-14: “Surely, this Instruction which I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach. It is not in the heavens, that you should say, ‘Who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who among us can cross to the other side of the sea and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?’ No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it.”
In this season of soul-searching, I have been thinking hard about the assertion that to truly choose life, we have only to heed truths already resident in our own hearts. How do they get there?
My childhood was not big on moral instruction. In truth, I remember only one lesson, but it was delivered with irresistible regularity and force. My elders taught it whenever I came home from the schoolyard carrying a racist rhyme or tales of name-calling and childish persecution. “Never do that,” they told me. “Think how you would feel if someone did it to you.”
The golden rule exists (with slight variations) in every spiritual tradition. The version I later learned was based on a famous story of Rabbi Hillel, a great teacher who lived in Jerusalem around the beginning of the common era 2000 years ago. It is the first parable I remember learning. As the story goes, Hillel was challenged to convey the essence of Jewish teaching while standing on one foot: “That which is hateful to you,” he said, “do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary.”
This is precisely how the New York Times‘ lead editorial on Friday characterized the objections of military officers, members of Congress, former cabinet members and others who have spoken out against President Bush’s demands for what the Times characterized as “coerced evidence, secret hearings and other horrific violations of American justice.” I recommend that you read the editorial in its entirety. Here’s a snippet for now:
The opposition to these provisions by legal scholars, military lawyers and a host of former top commanders of the armed forces has been overwhelming. In recent days, two former chairmen of the joint chiefs of staff, Colin L. Powell, and John W. Vessey, wrote to Senator John McCain urging him to go on fighting the White House. “The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism,” General Powell wrote.
More than two dozen former military leaders and top Pentagon officials, from both parties, wrote to Senator John Warner, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, expressing “profound concern” about undermining the Geneva Conventions. Their objections involve a simple equation: The Conventions protect captured American soldiers. If America mistreats its prisoners, American soldiers are in danger of the same, or worse.
The world in its multifariousness offers ample evidence for any hypothesis. If we want to believe the villains are winning, we can tote up victories for their side; if we want to see a groundswell of energy for positive change, the evidence is everywhere too. Looking at the world through fear-colored glasses, it is easy to believe that those with whom we disagree lack an inner voice. But to think so is arrogant. As to Congress as a whole, we’ll have to wait and see if enough members grow a spine in time to vote on this matter. But it is not every day that a triumvirate of hard-right senators like Warner, McCain and Lindsey Graham refuse the president a blank check.
In this High Holy Day season, we focus on t’shuvah—reorientation, turning, redemption. In an image of t’shuvah inspired by the writing of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, I imagine human beings as planets, endlessly orbiting the creative, healing source of life. None of us is any farther from that source, none of us any closer. The question is one of orientation. In an instant, a person who has been gazing into darkness pivots to face the light, and everything changes. Each autumn, I remember this: we are never too far, it is never too late, there is no wrong reason, to turn.
I imagine that sometime in childhood, every member of Congress was admonished, “Don’t do that to Bobby. How would you feel if he did it to you?” Each day brings the growth of dissent from the immorality our government has been perpetrating. My wish in this season of change is that those who represent us remember that childhood admonition and turn toward the source of empathy abiding very close to them, in their hearts and in their mouths.