For the week of September 3, 2005 / 29 Av 5765
Torah: Devarim / Deuteronomy 11:26 - 16:17
Haftarah: Isaiah 54:11 - 55:5; 1 Samuel 20:18 & 42
You are not to do as we do here today, everyone as he sees fit, since you have not yet reached the resting place and the inheritance the LORD your God is giving you. (Devarim / Deuteronomy 12:8,9)
The story of the nation of Israel in the Torah is a story of progress. Abram (later named Abraham), is called from family and the familiar to follow God to a new life. Childless, yet God promises him that he would become a great nation. Through the intervention of God, he and his wife Sarah eventually in their old age had a child, named Isaac, and later a grandson, Jacob, who himself had twelve sons -progress indeed. The nation of Israel later begins to take form under oppression and hardship as slaves in Egypt until the day God sends Moses to demand their freedom. It took the dramatic and devastating power of God to effect the release of what had become a people numbering two million. More progress. They then began a journey of return back to the land God promised their ancestor Abraham centuries before. They would learn many lessons, making further progress - albeit slowly - before they were ready to enter the Promised Land.
There is a view of life shared by many that believes in what has been termed "progress." I am not myself a philosopher or a historian, but it seems to me that with the rise of the industrial revolution of the eighteenth century, the motto of Western Society has been "Newer is better." Development and discovery are almost always viewed as progress; and progress is always good.
I would agree that progress itself is a good thing. But how does one determine when progress has been achieved? Breakthroughs in science and technology are automatically embraced by many as progress. Those who show concern over certain forms of experimentation are viewed as standing in the way of progress.
Whether or not something is truly progress is actually dependant upon one's moral framework. For example some people have a complete aversion to weaponry. They view guns and other weapons as intrinsically evil. Would a person like that view the development of lighter, cheaper, and more effective (or destructive) forms of weapons as progress? I don't think so. Another person who regards weaponry as a necessary (though perhaps tragic) reality of life, might welcome such developments and believe that progress has been made.
Progress is not simply embracing our discoveries of new things, but in knowing how to respond to those discoveries.
As Israel progressed in their national and spiritual development, it meant greater responsibility. For example, before Israel entered the Promised Land, there seemed to be a certain freedom with regard to how they worshipped. But that would change once they entered the Land. Their progress meant greater restriction. But this kind of restriction was not a bad thing. Their progress was from being slaves of Pharaoh to being servants of God. They were progressing from preparation to acquisition. This was a nation embracing their true identity and inheritance, while learning to live accordingly. Their new restrictions were the result of true progress.
In our day there is a tendency to equate discovery and innovation with opportunity. Our lack of spiritual and moral foundations gives us no standards or guidelines by which to respond to the things before us. And so, in the name of progress, we exploit our opportunities rather than assuming our God-given responsibilities. Our belief that newer is better is used to justify the embracing of any and all results of not only scientific and technological discoveries, but of moral experimentation as well. What we think is progress may actually be regression.
In order to experience true progress, we need to allow God's truth and wisdom to speak into the so-called advancements of our day. As we re-establish godly foundations, we will discover the true path of progress.
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