July 4th: Jewish Reflections on the Declaration of Independence

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back View Of Jewish Citizen Wearing Yarmulke In Front Of American Flag for multi-ethnicity nature of USA
28 Jun 2017

The Declaration begins with:

“When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another…a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them…”

Later, the Declaration claims:

“The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.”

One could contend that another name to use was the Declaration of Grievances, for almost 30 distinct offenses were listed. Those grievances though were only part of the process. These signatories used them for a crucial end product, to announce a Divinely protected pledge:

“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”

When the United States of America issued its Declaration of Independence 241 years ago, that vision and the people involved arguably brought to truth a powerful lesson found in Tanach. In Tehillim 34:15, we’re urged to “Turn from evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it.” Aside for exchanging distance from evil with doing good, the same verse perhaps implies that real good largely connects to finding something associated with peace and pursuing it (rather than the less involved action of “do good”).

The 13 colonies acted in part to turn from their perceived evil, and “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” fits with the idea of doing good connected to something pursuant with peace. This aspiration came though at a hefty price. Before the Declaration, the War of Independence began more than a year prior. Over eight years of fighting. As many as 148,000 combined dead. Deadly weather conditions and diseases. Families and towns shattered. Progress hindered at times, and America’s quest for liberty seemed hopeless. However, the 13 colonies had an X-factor to ensure that they would endure the current most powerful empire.

A mere five days after the Declaration was adopted, General George Washington ordered it read before the American army in New York, and inscribed copies came to every state in January of 1777. Beyond the battles, there was a compelling case to virtually any person willing to know – we’re doing this for “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Turning from their collective evil, pursuing good in what would eventually be peace. The colonies’ determination was rewarded with eventual victory, and despite some errors and wrongs, America has stood true to its original founding in critical moments of history, and please God it will continue to do so.

According to many of our sages, the uniqueness of humanity is their ability to speak and communicate on a higher level than any other living creature. This Declaration is proof. Words always matter, and their power and influence can go far beyond the original intent the moment they were uttered or written.

It’s worth noting that the Declaration header reads: “The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America.” Unity goes beyond cliches. Unity’s power is more potent than any battle or survival strategy. America spoke in one voice at its founding. In an era of ever-polarizing politics, when religion is sadly becoming more and more sectarian, it behooves us to reflect on the very principles on which the United States was founded.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.