Early summer 1945: Britain was broke. Its cities lay in ruins, its citizens were shabbily dressed and its daily food and fuel would be strictly rationed for the next ten years. The world’s richest nation had become its biggest debtor. There were neither the resources nor the urge for frivolity. Yet within weeks of the end of the war and with creditors baying at the door, an almost indigent nation resolved without controversy to set up three cost intensive new cultural institutions.
The high-domed, walrus-eyed, free-spirited, Treasury adviser, John Maynard Keynes declared, “I do not believe it is yet realized what an important thing has happened. State patronage of the arts has crept in. It has happened in a very English, informal, unostentatious way – half-baked, if you like.” A boundary was crossed, and Baron Keynes knew that there was no going back.
Boundaries were crossed at Sinai as well: “Moses, Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel ascended. They saw the Lord of Israel, and under His feet was the likeness of sapphire brickwork, and it was like the essence of heaven in purity.” (Exodus 24:9-10) God was not pleased. They looked where they should have not. They crossed a boundary. Many believe that the seeds of the sin of the Golden Calf were planted at that moment.
But other boundaries were crossed as well. A nation of newly freed slaves entered into a living covenant with God. They too crossed a boundary; the one that lies between a life of limitation and a life of the infinite.
We too often cross boundaries. There are ill-defined lines separating holy speech from the unholy. A hair separates between eating and spiritual nourishment, between arrogance and humility, between knowledge and the essence of Torah. I will leave it for the ethical masters and preachers to address the times we creep across the line into destructive behaviors. I prefer to celebrate with you the many times when we are able to reach just beyond the boundary into the good and the holy.
We may not often succeed at leaping across the line, but we do excel at taking baby steps into higher and better levels of existence. Perhaps it is informal, unostentatious, and half-baked, but we have crossed those boundaries never to permanently slip all the way back.
Perhaps when we realize how skilled we are as Boundary-Crossers, we will be able to overcome those Cherubim standing at the boundary of Eden with their swords of fire, threatening to stop all except, of course, the Boundary-Crossers.
Shabbat Shalom, and a Renewing Rosh Chodesh.
Rabbi Simcha L. Weinberg