Editor’s Note: This essay by Rabbi Norman S. Lipson first appeared in the contributed blogs section of The Times of Israel, and is republished here with Rabbi Lipson’s permission.
More than 100 years ago, the British writer, H.H. Munro, better known as Saki, wrote a short story entitled: “The Interlopers.” Though I don’t believe Saki had our time of history in mind when he wrote it, nevertheless, its message is as current as today’s news headlines.
Ulich von Gradwitz and George Znaeym, whose grandfathers had feuded over a piece of forestland, were enemies since birth. As boys, they had despised each other, and by the evening of this story, the now-grown men were determined to bring a final end to the feud by killing their enemy.
Hunting in the contested forest and separated from his men, Ulrich accidentally encountered Georg alone. Face to face they stared at each other, but before either man could move, a bolt of lightning struck a tree, and toppling over, pinned them underneath its limbs, side-by-side, almost within touching distance of each other.
Dazed, injured, and angry at the situation in which they found themselves. Georg told Ulrich that his men were right behind him, and threatened that, when they would arrive, they would kill him. To this threat, Ulrich replied that his men would arrive first and kill Georg! Both men knew it was only a matter of waiting to see which group of foresters will reach them first.
After several hours, Ulrich managed to draw his wine flask out of his coat pocket, drank some wine and, feeling something akin to pity, offered it to Georg. Georg refused, on the grounds that he did not drink wine with an enemy.
After a few more moments of silence, an idea came to Ulrich. He proposed to Georg that they bury their quarrel, saying: “We have been fools and now I ask for your friendship.” After a long silence, Georg accepted Ulrich’s proposal and the men decided to join their voices together to shout for help.
Suddenly, Ulrich shouted: “I see figures coming through the wood,” Both men shout as loudly as they can! “They hear us! They hear us! They see us! They’re running down the hill towards us!” cried Ulrich.
“Are they your men or mine”, asked Georg anxiously.
“No,” said Ulrich with a laugh, the laugh of a man unstrung with hideous fear. “Whose are they?” asked Georg quickly, straining his eyes to see what the other would gladly not have seen.
“Wolves” replied Ulrich, “Wolves.”
This Sunday, the United States of America celebrates its 245th year of independence. However, too many of its citizenry are far from united, nor are they celebrating.
Like the two lost and feuding protagonists in the story, legitimate issues of concern impacting America’s heart, soul and future have become lost in the tangle of overgrown forests, inhospitable badlands and convoluted intricacies comprising America’s political and social life today. Legitimate issues have been allowed to be overwhelmed and drowned in a turbulent and seemingly never-ending sea of personal grievances, self-righteousness posturing by would-be demagogues, and machinations by politicians, parading as political leaders.
The sounding of hunting horns, drowning out voices of sanity and clarity, summon forces to rally round the banner of whatever cause du jour currently being espoused or is politically correct. Its blaring has caused us, at our own peril, to forget that the we are not the only inhabitants in the forest, nor the only hunters in the woods. While America exhausts its energies and resources on ceaseless quests for cultural, linguistic and God knows what else woke purity, wolves are gathering on the hills and watching.
Georg and Ulrich’s personal issues, and yes, egos, led them to their ultimate fate. Too late they realized a common enemy was waiting, an enemy that had absolutely no regard or concern for their legal, personal or family issues. This enemy, the wolves, saw only one thing: an opportunity to destroy both men.
The multi-dimensional infighting from which America is suffering — viewing fellow citizens as potential or actual enemies because of skin color, religion, or political affiliation, will not bring resolution to any of America’s real issues. It will, however, weaken as well as distract us from confronting the real dangers hovering just over the horizon.
In the words of Ulrich: “I see figures coming through the wood; they’re running down the hill towards us!”
I fear that the motto of America: “E Pluribus Unum —Out of Many, One,” is in danger of becoming: “E Unum Pluribus —Out of One, Many.”
If that happens, it will no longer be, “God bless America,” but rather: “God, help America!”