Seek the Lord, ye humble of the earth

Reality has taught me that the demand for the total and absolute "right" never comes true.

September 28, 2006 15:44
2 minute read.

Years ago, for my birthday, my older brother gave me a drawing of Bart Simpson writing with chalk on the blackboard, "You're right and I'm wrong… You're right and I'm wrong…" over and over. I was so pleased that I even framed the picture and hung it on my wall. But as time passes, it's not as charming anymore. If he were to give it to me today, I doubt I would frame it. The reason: my understanding of "being right" has changed. Reality has taught me that the demand for the total and absolute "right" never comes true. That demand is an excellent prescription for captivating rhetoric, it can be preserved forever (as in the books of the prophets) and it makes for great PR. But the demand for total and absolute right has brought very few real achievements. In contrast, understanding "being right" as something relative, as a destination-goal that we reach by pressing on the brakes and not only on the gas - that is the understanding that can lead to a more righteous society. It is good that there are those among us who would demand that we create a perfectly righteous society immediately. But it is also good that there are those among us who have the ability to tolerate ambiguous situations over time, while progressing steadily toward change. Those in the first group have hearts of gold, but their hearts are broken. Those in the second group have human hearts. The feminist revolution has been my greatest teacher as I have come to learn that right is relative. As I started out on my feminist path, I knew how to light flames and set fires in the hearts of those who heard me. The injustice of discrimination against women led me to demand that society become just immediately, at any price. The years have taught me that this style distanced many good people from our struggle. Many men felt uncomfortable and resistant to my strident statements. Some women felt threatened and were quick to defend themselves against the unequivocal demand for immediate justice and equality. The quotation marks drove away the very people I tried to enlist. I've become familiar with other punctuation marks, especially the question marks that have proven that they, too, can be effective as we progress toward righteousness and rightness. I've lost the arrogant hutzpa that characterized my beginnings. But I've gained something else. A wiser, more hesitant view that considers how much rightness we can demand from an immigrant society, only 58 years old that is still trying to maintain a Jewish and democratic state in the Middle East. If we take this into account, we can be very pleased with some of our achievements. But we still have some serious sources of concern, chief among them - silence, corruption and apathy. I have not retreated from any of my demands for equality, tolerance and justice. But I have learned something - that we can open the gates of righteousness with kindness and patience and not only with anti-aircraft missiles. And so, this year as every year, I'll call my brother, and with great affection, I will say to him, "You were right and I was right. Happy New Year, big brother." Happy New Year to us all. The writer is executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism.

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