Rabbi Irwin Wiener, D.D.
February is such a dull month. On the one hand, we are eagerly awaiting the advent of spring, and on the other, we relish the relief from the warm weather that is fast approaching. It is like this is the in-between month. But then we look at the calendar and realize that we have a great deal to be grateful for, and February is the reminder.
Presidents’ Day is listed. How many remember when we celebrated both George Washington’s birthday and Abraham Lincoln’s birthday in February. Then, some bright minds got together and decided that we should combine the two holidays and save us the ordeal of two retail days. The true meanings of these commemorations were lost in the notion that shopping was the proper way to acknowledge these giants of American history.
These two men, in their own way, and in their own time, contributed to our survival as a nation: Abraham Lincoln kept us together as a nation as we attempted to dissolve this experiment called America. It was a time of brother against brother. It was a time when geography was the determining factor of whether this nation could survive. It was a time when the conscience of our nation was tested in a racial divide that seemed to tear at the very fabric of our souls. It was a time when the true meaning of “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men were created equal,” as was written in our Declaration of Independence, was tested with the ultimate sacrifice of life and limb, “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
George Washington ensured our birth and continued existence by contributing wealth and fortitude to help break the shackles of ingratitude and arrogance as displayed by the treatment received from Great Britain. Can anyone truly imagine how difficult it was to distance ourselves from the one entity that gave us the ability to thrive in a free atmosphere, only to have it encroached upon time and again because of greed and duplicity?
Nowhere in the annals of history do we find a more noble cause nor a more justified example of what freedom meant. Nowhere do we find a people so dedicated to self-determination that they were willing to sacrifice everything they possessed, both physically and economically. “They are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” was not a slogan, but a call to the whole world that a new chapter in the history of mankind was on the horizon.
America is still, through all its upheavals, the hope of humanity. The message that was transmitted by these two men through word and action still reverberates around the world. The lamp that lights the way at the entrance to our country remains lit for all to see, for all to enjoy, for all to understand that its glow lights the path to hope.
God continue to bless these United States. God bless the memory of George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin, and… .