Jewish World Review Nov 22, 2011 / 25 Mar-Cheshvan, 5772
Coming home to the wilderness
By Paul Greenberg
Of all American holidays, surely
How strange that this celebration of roots, of the familiar, of home, of all things good and unchanging … should have been originated by a band of wanderers. Sojourners who were very much aware they were only sojourners here below and should be. That is, pilgrims. First they had gone to
How their Dutch friends must have pitied this strange band, this forlorn group of foreign zealots setting sail for a world they thought would be new. They were relying on little but faith in an age when faith, far from the cliche it has become in today's America, offered nothing but trouble and turmoil. They were leaving civilization for the wilderness, the world of Rembrandt and Vermeer for … who knew what? A wilderness.
For almost a dozen years, they had basked in Dutch hospitality, for
Yet they were trading this refuge, this sanctuary, this safe harbor for … what? For what any good, settled burgher would have considered a frightful destination even if these people survived the dangerous seas. There were reasons for the sobs and sighs of the friends who had gathered at the quay to say goodbye.
Yet the travelers seemed to have no second thoughts, perhaps because, to quote the account of their secretary and record keeper,
These wanderers were to prove the founders and forerunners of a commonwealth and nation and civilization beyond the fearful imaginings of those who saw them off. Perhaps because, on reaching their new home, and sensing the imminent destruction all about them, they remained fully alert -- and fully alive. Like soldiers in combat for their very souls. They seemed as aware of every danger as they were grateful for every deliverance, and saw the working of divine will at every turn. They took nothing for granted. But as the generations passed, they settled in, and grew complacent.
"For the first several decades after the arrival in
But by the third generation in the new world, a change had taken place. Days of
The history of the Puritans, like that of
Would those first pilgrims look with envy at all that has been wrested from the wilderness they encountered, and that encountered them? Surely, they would find reason to give thanks as they looked on the fruit of their quest, for they were not ones to be embarrassed by prosperity; they worked for it, prayed for it, blessed it, were grateful for it. They did not divorce the spiritual from the material, but sought to wed them, which remains the American way. They sought abundance -- an abundance of blessings.
Seeing what has been wrought on these shores, often enough in their name, would the Pilgrims proclaim a
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