A Lot to Atone For - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
A Lot to Atone For

The Jewish day of Atonement. And wow, do I have a lot to atone for! Mostly not being grateful enough and not trusting God enough. I spend too much of my life worrying about what I will need when I am (even) older and what I don’t have right now.

Instead, I should be prostrated on the ground endlessly thanking God for what I do have. Mind you, I spend more time doing that than doing any other conscious act, but it is still not enough.

My ancestors lived in (what I assume was) dire poverty in Russia. They probably lived in very modest dwellings. Because God allowed me to live in America, allowed my parents and grandparents to live in America, because he gave me extraordinary blessings in terms of family, friends, and very modest abilities, I get to live in a house with a swimming pool.

It isn’t a mansion at all, but it is a home in a free country with palm trees and a pool. The gratitude I feel to the Lord God, whose name is Jahweh, I am that I am, is beyond measure. Just beyond words.

I am addicted to documentaries about World War II and I see an infinitesimal slice of the suffering of my fellow Jews — beyond measure. But I get to live in peace, thanks to the heroism of men and women like my father in law and my father and my uncle Bob Denman. Thanks also to the British and the Aussies and the Canadians and the Chinese and the Poles and the Kiwis and above all, the Russians, who have suffered beyond comprehension under Communism and under the Nazi heel.

I am wondering if, when Mr. Obama talks about us just being one nation among many, not much different from each other, he has any idea of just how uniquely perfect this United States of America is. I don’t think he does or he would not see us as similar to Kenya or Brazil (although I love, love, love Brazil). I wonder if he studied history at all besides some sort of Peoples’ History.… No, never mind. On this day, we love him, too.

“Your basic human is not such a hot item,” says my super nova of genius sister, Rachel. And usually that has resulted in terrible oppression of man by man. But in America, we harness man’s aggression to do harmless things like making money (relatively harmless — not always harmless ) and making movies and designing clothes. We have a Constitution that allows man to work for himself and herself instead of against others. This is blessing indeed. What a gift this nation is. What a glory the Constitution is. What glories our military are.

This morning I prayed with the ancient, leather-bound prayer books that my Uncle Hy and Aunt Sophie gave me in 1957 at my Bar Mitzvah. I prayed, as always, for washing me clean from my sins of stiff-neckedness, pride, unchastity, and greed, as these are what is written out in my prayer books. I personally feel that my own worst sins are not appreciating my wife enough and for my insane wastefulness. Interestingly, I find no sins of wastefulness and extravagance listed in the prayer books. Maybe because the rabbis did not want to discourage charitable giving.

Anyway, as I read and read, what should I come across but this prayer, in paraphrase: Please grant us pardon according to your graciousness because our works are meager. This stunned me. Not by works but by Grace. I had never seen it so explicit in a Jewish book of prayer. Not by works alone, I would say, although many would disagree, but overwhelmingly by Grace.

His Grace showers down on us like a mighty river.


Ben Stein
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Ben Stein is a writer, actor, economist, and lawyer living in Beverly Hills and Malibu. He writes “Ben Stein’s Diary” for every issue of The American Spectator.
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