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Jewish World Review Oct. 11, 2001 / 24 Tishrei 5762

Don Feder

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Blessings aren't a one-way street -- ON Sunday, President George W. Bush concluded his announcement of the beginning of the air war (the beginning of the end for Taliban) with, "May G-d continue to bless America." They say there are no atheists in foxholes -- or on stealth bombers.

Since Sept. 11, we've been invoking G-d more than a Baptist preacher in a Sunday sermon. Irving Berlin's love song to his adopted land has climbed to the top of the charts.

But do we understand the implications of asking for G-d's blessings? (From the fury of the terrorists, oh Lord, protect us!) Or do we say, "G-d bless America," like some incantation?

Does it have no deeper significance than, "Have a nice day"? Or does it recognize an obligation on our part to walk in His ways. G-d bless America. But what does G-d get in return?

For most of our history, Americans believed there was a direct correlation between our conduct as a people and fate as a nation.

George Washington observed, "The propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained."

In his second inaugural address, delivered a month before the end of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln suggested that perhaps the conflict -- in which the North had lost 200,000 men -- was punishment for slavery. We "fervently pray" the war will end, said Lincoln. Still, if G-d requires that "every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword," His judgments are "true and righteous altogether."

Thomas Jefferson (a slaveowner) was judging himself when he wrote, "I tremble for my country when I reflect that G-d is just: that His justice cannot sleep forever."

In those days, war and disasters were met by declarations of national days of fasting and repentance.

Then, Americans took to heart the admonitions of a book most knew by heart -- a work Lincoln read religiously during his White House years. In Deuteronomy, the Lord tells the children of Israel that after they enter the promised land, the day will come when they will turn aside from His law and serve other G-ds. Then, "I will hide my face from you."

G-d doesn't exact retribution. But He may withdraw His protection and leave a nation vulnerable to human predators -- Babylonians, Assyrians, hijackers.

When G-d's face is hidden, we can't see His hand in events that shape our lives. We are bereft of the comfort of His presence.

We implore G-d to bless America -- to bestow His blessings on us collectively. And yet, when planes aren't crashing into buildings, as a nation we tend to ignore Him, or to treat His laws as the archaic prescriptions of a monarch long dead.

Approximately 6,000 died in the World Trade Center, and the nation mourned. Roughly 4,000 die in abortion clinics each day -- medical terrorism conducted in the name of choice. Except for much-abused right-to-lifers, no one gives a damn.

One state condones doctor-assisted suicide. Several have legalized medical marijuana. Vermont has put homosexual unions on the same plane as that honorable estate instituted of G-d. Some Internet sites make Sodom seem wholesome.

Our courts and cultural elite have told G-d He isn't welcome in our communal house.

We've banished Him from classrooms, school commencements, even high school sports events. In public schools, t-shirts with obscenities are OK, but the Ten Commandments is banned.

The ACLU has waged a successful jihad against the public display of creches and menorahs. Instead of G-d hiding His face from us, we hide from Him. Out of embarrassment, perhaps?

Ah, but we're a secular nation, liberals say. Church and state must be separate. Taking G-d seriously is a threat to our liberties. Well and good. But don't go running to G-d in times of trouble, when the horror of chemical or biological warfare looms.

"America the Beautiful," another song much in vogue these days, calls for Heaven's favor ("G-d shed His grace on thee"). But it also asks the Master of the Universe to make us worthy of His blessings. "America! America! G-d mend thine every flaw, confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law."

G-d blesses the nation that acknowledges Him.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest books are Who is afraid of the Religious Right? ($15.95) and A Jewish conservative looks at pagan America ($9.95). To receive an autographed copy, send a check or money order to: Don Feder, The Boston Herald, 1 Herald Sq., Boston, Mass. 02106. Doing so will help fund JWR, if so noted. He is also available as a guest speaker. To comment on this column please click here.

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© 2001, Creators Syndicate