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In 1982, I made my first visit to Washington, D.C., on my junior high school social studies trip. The highlight for me was the visit to the Lincoln Memorial. After all these years, and many visits later, it still takes my breath away as it did that very first time.

I remember staring at the giant Abraham Lincoln in his big stone chair and wondering, “What are you thinking? As you look out over the reflecting pool and beyond, what do your eyes see? What do you hear, what would you say right now?”

On the south wall of the memorial, etched into the marble, perhaps for all eternity, are his words from his second inaugural address. Noting the pain and devastation of the Civil War, noting that Americans on both sides of that conflict were invoking God’s name to bear on their side for victory, Lincoln famously wrote:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan — to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and a lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.”

It still brings me to tears, as it did nearly 40 years ago.

Lincoln and the nation at that time had the difficult task of healing deep divisions in order to continue the work of building a more perfect union. What stands out for me in his words is the phrase, “as God gives us to see the right, let us strive to finish the work we are in.” While Lincoln was first and foremost concerned about healing the country, there is a great teaching here: the striving toward a vision of the perfected whole. Lincoln offers a vision of a world different and better than what we may be experiencing; an understanding that the here and now can be altered to reflect a world to come, filled with wholeness and holiness.

The story of a land and a people divided is not a new story for sure, and it has its roots in the biblical story of Abraham who left one homeland to come to another with the promise of blessing and prosperity for the land and his descendants. What Abraham found upon his arrival in the new land was anything but blessing; there was famine, there was discord, there was family and tribal dysfunction.

Yet through it all Abraham was able to rise above the immediacy of the problems by embracing two important facts. First, he knew that the Holy One would deliver on the sacred promises in due time, and second, he would not know when or how those promises would be realized.

As the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks taught, “Abraham taught us that faith is not certainty, faith is the courage to live with uncertainty.” Working each day to create an environment for blessings to be realized, or as Lincoln wrote, “to strive on to finish the work we are in,” in order to create that more perfect union. As my teachers taught me, to hope and believe is human; to work each day toward that dream is holy.

Over this past election cycle and over these past 10 months of a pandemic, there is much that we pray for and about — healthy, safety, security, relationships, neighbors and neighborhoods, our city, our state, our country. And we should pray for those and more. But to our prayers, let’s add the work of our hands and the kind words of our mouths as we effectively bind up the wounds around us, caring for those about us and achieving lasting wholeness for us.

While we are uncertain about when that vision will ultimately be realized, let us believe, as Lincoln did, that it is possible. Then truly, with malice toward none and charity for all, will we be able finally to reap the bounty of abundance, wholeness and holiness — for you, for me and for us all.

Rabbi Andrew Paley is the senior rabbi of Temple Shalom in Dallas. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.

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