A few years ago, I received this anonymous email outlining the fate of the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence:
Five signers were captured by the British as traitors, and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned.
Two lost their sons serving in the Revolutionary Army; another had two sons captured. Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader saw his ships swept from the seas by the British Navy. He sold his home and properties to pay his debts and died in rags.
Thomas McKeam was so hounded by the British that he was forced to move his family almost constantly. He served in the Congress without pay, and his family was kept in hiding. His possessions were taken from him, and poverty was his reward.
Vandals or soldiers looted the properties of Dillery Hall, Clymer, Walton, Gwinett, Heyward, Ruttledge, and Middleton. At the battle of Yorktown, Thomas Nelson, Jr. noted that the British General Cornwallis had taken over the Nelson home for his headquarters. He quietly urged General George Washington to open fire. The home was destroyed, and Nelson died bankrupt.
Francis Lewis had his home and properties destroyed. The enemy jailed his wife, and she died within a few months. John Hart was driven from his wife’s bedside as she was dying. Their 13 children fled for their lives. His fields and his gristmill were laid to waste. For more than a year he lived in forests and caves, returning to find his wife dead and his children vanished. A few weeks later he died from exhaustion and a broken heart. Norris and Livingston suffered similar fates.
Such were the stories and sacrifices of the American Revolution.
Two centuries later, few of us ever contemplate making sacrifices for what we believe in. Perhaps we are too preoccupied profiting from our freedom to bother thinking about what we owe to the system that enables us to prosper. It is a deplorable failing for an American.
It is even more deplorable for a Jew.
Our patriarchs Avrohom, Yitzchok, and Yaakov suffered alienation and persecution for the sin of rejecting paganism and moral anarchy. The generations in Egypt endured 210 years of escalating oppression, slavery, and infanticide. The generation of Moshe wandered for 40 years in the desert to merit entering their land. The generations of the judges and kings fought against internal and external enemies to build and preserve the spiritual integrity of their nation.
And generations of exiles have struggled against religious persecution, genocide, and assimilation at the hands of Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome, against pogroms at the hands of Crusaders and Cossacks, against holocausts at the hands of Hitlers and Stalins. They sacrificed their lives, their fortunes, and their children — sometimes willingly, sometimes forcibly — for no other reason than because they were Jews.
What have we sacrificed?
It’s easy to credit ourselves with having sacrificed cheeseburgers, shrimp scampi, mixed swimming, Friday night movies, Saturday golf games, and sleeping in late on Sunday mornings. But do we dedicate enough of our time and energy to learning, to chesed, to showing respect to our parents and teachers, to being patient with our children, to conducting ourselves respectfully in shul, and to guarding our tongues from gossip and slander?
It’s a good time of year to reflect upon the responsibilities of freedom. It’s a better time show our appreciation for the freedoms that we have by recommitting ourselves to using those freedoms the way HaShem wants us to.