Proud to be an American - Making Sense on the Dollar

Friday, 2 July, 2010 - 12:05 pm

America was established based on the truths that G-d imprinted into the fabric of existence. The Founding Fathers drafted important documents communicating these fundamental ideals. They understood the need for a succinct message, so they made a summary of these principles. Printed on every coin and one dollar bill are two messages: "In G-d We Trust" - a reminder that our society is built on a foundation of spiritual truth, and E Pluribus Unum ("Out of the Many, One") - a promise that none will impose his views on another.

Why on money? Firstly, because money is everywhere. Furthermore, money provides the means to fulfill our needs. Yet, money and materialism are the most serious threats to our society! It is the desire to take and not to give, that is the danger in any society. So our founding fathers put this fundamental lesson precisely where this selfish desire can so easily be manifest.

Let us consider these two phrases. They used the expression "In G-d We Trust," not "In G-d We Believe." Belief does not necessarily affect one's conduct. The Talmud talks of a thief who prays for success before a break-in. If he believes in G-d, how can he steal? Since his faith is above intellect, it leaves room for a dichotomy. Like the thief, a person's beliefs can be separate from his mind and conduct. Many people speak of believing in G-d, or having G-d in their hearts. The challenge of faith is not only to believe, but to have the belief influence our daily thinking and conduct. This is what trust in G-d means.

Saying "In G-d We Trust" invites Him to become an active partner in our lives. This is what the founding fathers meant when they imprinted this motto on our currency.

Trust in G-d is a fundamental necessity. It is impossible to build a moral society without trust in G-d and reliance on His principles.

Recent history provides the clearest proof for this statement. In the early 20th century, the leader of civilization, science and culture, philosophy and ethics, was Germany. Yet, the most hideous atrocities were perpetrated in the name of humanity's advancement. They lacked the acknowledgement of a G-d-given, objective standard of truth. Without such a standard, we - as a society and as individuals - can set our own values capriciously, and then justify them to ourselves and to others.

Which leads to the second principle, “E Pluribus Unum.” Our founding fathers came to these shores fleeing religious persecution. To ensure that the oppressed would not become oppressors, they installed the safeguards of freedom and tolerance.

They did not seek to establish a homogeneous populace; freedom of personal expression was one of their guiding principles. Although they wanted a unified nation, they realized that differences should not lead to division, and that oneness can be multifaceted. They sought to show how McCarthy, Pulaski, and Cohen can retain their unique traditions and yet, join together to forge a unified society, which would not only survive the differences, but benefit from the diversity.

When our founding fathers chose the maxim: "Out of the Many, One," they did not want the oneness to obscure the plurality. Instead, with freedom and tolerance enshrined as the foundation of its system of values, America evolved into a society that teaches every individual to flourish, accentuating every group's contribution to the cultural mosaic. As this society encompassed a greater variety of people, it gained strength and vibrancy, until it became the leading culture in the world.

How is it possible for different entities to function as an integrated whole? Taken to its extreme, a society composed of distinct groups could lead to anarchy. Even with moderation, there is likely to be strife as every sub-unit tries to protect itself and further its own vested interests.

These difficulties are resolved by awareness and democracy. The very awareness of the positive nature of difference, breeds tolerance and prevents bigotry and persecution. In addition, it must be understood that there no need for one person's success to come at the expense of another. True, there have been periods of intense competition and shameful times when one group took unfair advantage of another. Still, Americans have accepted the premise that by working hard, they can carve out a slice of the pie large enough to provide for themselves and their families, without taking from someone else.

The second cornerstone of unity in American society is democracy - abiding by the will of the majority. Unlike in sports competition, there should not be a real loser. The nature of democracy is a synergistic social contract. If the majority imposes its will on the minority without respect for their rights and principles, then the "winners" will have lost. Though they enjoy the fruits of victory, they will cease to enjoy cooperation and harmony, and these are the real blessings in any society. A democracy requires sacrifices by both. The minority must make the sacrifice of accepting the will of the majority, and the majority must learn to understand and cooperate with the minority. Democracy should be the active unifying force within our society. It breeds positive change, leading to a cross-fertilization of ideas that transcends party lines.

Most importantly, in a democratic society, harmony between the different groups is  achieved by focusing on authentic principles, which transcend all private interest. G-d has imprinted principles of truth and justice into the fabric of our existence, and these should serve as the basis of our social contract.

This is the interrelation of the two axioms chosen by our Founding Fathers. "In G-d We Trust" is thus stamped on the front of all our currency, for this is the primary lesson. Our shared trust in G-d leads to E Pluribus Unum, generating the potential to weld the different elements of our society into a comprehensive whole. For an honest commitment to G-d enables a person to overcome the natural tendency toward self-interest and to consider the welfare of others.

We extend our condolences to the Rozensweig-Lupin family upon the loss of Mr. Harold Rozensweig. May G-d comfort you amongst the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

I wish my parents, Rabbi Zelig and Bluma Rivkin, a mazel tov upon the birth of a granddaughter to my sister Fruma and Mendy Schapiro. 

Shabbat Shalom and have a wonderful July 4th.

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