Moses is standing atop Mt. Sinai, when God asks him where he wants to take the Israelites, where would be their Promised Land. Moses glances around at the world and picks what he believes to be the best spot imaginable — abundant natural resources, plenty of room, no external security threats.
“Ca-ca-ca,” he begins to respond with his famous stutter.
Anticipating his answer, God quickly interrupts him and says, “Oh, Canaan?”
“I guess so,” thinks Moses, “but actually what I really had in mind was CANADA!!”
July 1st, 2017 is a special day not just for our country of Canada, but for all our faith communities of Canada. Sometimes, as Canadians, we look at other nations and imagine that we don’t quite match up to their power and stature. We look south to the US and feel small next to the world’s superpower. We stare across the pond and view ourselves as a mere satellite of the British Commonwealth. Who are we as Canadians and what does that mean to us as Jewish Canadians as Christian Canadians as Sikh Canadians as Muslim Canadians and so on?
The Bible relays the events when we find the Children of Israel who have been wandering in the wilderness for forty years. Truth be told, it wasn’t a bad life. Their daily bread came from heaven, they were protected by the Clouds of Glory, and their thirst was quenched by the Well of Miriam that accompanied them on their sojourn. But one day, Miriam dies and the well is no more. The people are crying out and Moses does not know what to do. He turns to the Almighty who tells him to speak to the rock and ask it to issue forth water.
And so Moses gathers the Israelites together and begins talking to the rock. But alas, no matter how many jokes he tells the rock, how much praise he heaps upon it nothing works. The problem, our sages explain, is that he’s speaking to the wrong rock, because the correct rock was hidden amongst the other rocks! And so Moses picks up his staff and strikes the rock. Not once, but twice.
And all of a sudden, water comes gushing forth, in seemingly limitless supply! The people are elated. But not God. He summons Moses and Aaron and informs them that as a consequence of their disobedience, they will not enter the Promised Land.
As far as Diaspora life goes, we are incredibly blessed to be living in a land of promise, in our beloved country of Canada. Why is this year so spiritually significant? Because the name says it all. In the Jewish linguistic tradition, the word Canada may be subdivided into two words – “kan” which is Hebrew for ‘nest’, and “da” which is Yiddish for ‘here’ or Aramaic for ‘this.’ In other words, this here (our country) is a nest. What does a nest represent? Comfort. Protection. Happiness. Soaring above the world. These are all feelings that we as Canadians share. What’s more, “kan” also happens to equal 150 – now isn’t that something?!
The great Canadian philosopher, John Ralston Saul, calls Canada a Metis nation. Instead of seeing ourselves as not quite matching up to Great Britain or the United States, we should take pride in being the premier nation in the world to embody the qualities of multiculturalism and respect for our First Nations fellow citizens. And on that note, certainly this year we celebrate 150 years of the confederation of our nation. Nevertheless, we must always remember that our country, our land, has been here for millennia. Today we acknowledge the First Nations who opened their homeland to us and invited us to join them as a nation, and we express our gratitude to them for the treaty land upon which we stand. 150 years ago, we performed the commandment of “shiluach hakain” – we kissed the mother-bird goodbye and established our own independent nest, a nest where birds of a feather flock together.
But unlike our neighbours to the south or across the pond, birds of a feather don’t have to be ‘American’ or ‘British’ first and everything else, second, in some almost-embarrassed way of hiding one’s ethno-religious identity in the privacy of one’s home, whilst melting into some public ‘everyone’s-the-same’ pot. Not in Canada. We can be ‘birds of a feather’ while maintaining our unique cultural identities.
That’s what makes Canada great. Because being Jewish and Canadian or being Sikh and Canadian or Somali and Canadian is part and parcel of the fabric of Canadian society. Canadianism is multiculturalism at its very best. Canadianism means being a proud of your belief. The better the Sikh I am, the better the Canadian I become. In Canada, we have created the most unique nest in the history of humankind.
And it’s this unparalleled attitude, this special approach to diplomacy and the brotherhood of man that we bring to the world beyond our borders. We don’t strike the rock. We speak to the rock. A great deal of the work of our Canadian Armed Forces is serving as peacekeepers. We’re there to negotiate international crises, to assist those in insecure regions of the world, to educate, to train, to advocate for the rights of women and children.
Does that mean we never strike the rock? Of course, it doesn’t. Sometimes you need to strike. The problem occurs when one strikes not once, but twice. Our approach to the use of force is extremely measured, we go to the ends of the earth to avoid the use of excessive force. Because we realize that sometimes the ones we’re really targeting have gone, just like Moses’ target rock, and hidden themselves amongst innocent, peaceful good populations. And when those innocents are displaced and see their lives destroyed, through no fault of their own, we do everything in our power to assist them in rebuilding their lives, either in their locales or in our welcoming Canadian arms.
We excel at and revel in this form of soft power, because as a Metis nation, we have immense and profound respect and love for all human beings, regardless of race, ethnicity, or creed. Canada also contains the same letters as “nekudah” which means ‘point’. We, as Canadians, get the point. And we must never feel in any way inferior to any other nation, au contraire (it would have been remiss of us to omit any French!), we must proudly and boldly express this point to the world!
150 years is an incredible milestone. We have much to be grateful for. Today we thank God for our great country and we bless our leaders that they remain eternally committed to the awe-inspiring principles of Canadianism. May we continue for the next 150 years to be the leading nation in the world!
This speech given by Rabbanit Batya Friedman on Canada Day July 1, 2017 at Beth Israel Synagogue (as published in the Neighbourly, August 2017)