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Walls & Fences

February 3, 2017

“Something There Is That Doesn’t Love A Wall”

-Robert Frost

         Frost’s famous poem “The Mending Wall” challenges the notion captured in its flippant thesis, “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors.” It seems an innate feature of all humankind (regardless of political, ideological, or religious background) to feel the need to construct fences and walls.

How many good and caring families live in gated communities in an effort to keep out those who are not like them; don’t share their values? Then, again, how many build metaphorical walls to opinions, positions, and attitudes different than theirs? In his poem, Frost asks:

“Before I build a wall I’d like to know

What I was walling in or walling out,

And to whom I was like to give offence.”

         How many build intellectual walls by only reading the words of those they agree with, only listen to the pundits who reflect their thoughts, only pay attention to the media who are ideologically tuned in to them? Yet, these same good people celebrate their openness to all; profess their love for all God’s creatures.   Why, then, should we be surprised when a purported leader of the world announces plans to build walls between neighbors, to keep out those who do not share his world view.

We live in a time when being different is no longer celebrated, but feared; a time when earnest debate is no longer the hallmark of human intellect, but the source of rancor and hate. In a world where reason and logic fall victim to alternative truths, where fake news becomes fact and real news fiction one shares the confusion and disillusion of Robert Frost who writes:

“There where it is we do not need the wall:

He is all pine and I am apple orchard.

My apples will never get across

And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.

He only says, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

If I could put a notion in his head:

“Why do they make good neighbors?”

          It appears each generation is tested with regard to its commitment to the tenets of democracy and freedom for all. This is our day, and we are, again, being tested.   On March 21, 1965, Abraham Joshua Heschel marched arm-in-arm with Martin Luther King in Selma, Alabama in a peaceful protest for African American civil rights. After the march, Heschel sent a letter to King with the following words:  “For many of us, the march from Selma to Montgomery was about protest and prayer. Legs are not lips and walking is not kneeling. And yet our legs uttered songs. Even without words, our march was worship. I felt my legs were praying.”

Is this not the time for our legs to again pray?

Rabbi Howard Siegel



© 2017 Beth Tikvah Synagogue, Richmond, BC, Canada
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