“What will be?” a friend asked me yesterday.
Although I was struck by the passivity of his question, I understood where it came from. After all, he, as many of us, have never quite experienced such a tumultuous election season. The social mayhem that it created, the unpredictability of its results, and the conflicts that it provoked, have left many wondering the same.
But notwithstanding our reactions and emotions, and regardless of which side of the political aisle you belong to and which candidate you supported, I suggested the following response:
1. Disagreeing without being disagreeable: It is no secret that these elections have exposed divisions among us and our peers. In some cases, these divisions have become so severe, that they have devastated friendships and family relationships. For a better future, we must begin by committing to respect each other for who we are: people of all kinds, who were created in the image of God. We can certainly disagree, but we must not become disagreeable. We can battle ideas, but we cannot battle people.
A few years ago, my dear mentor Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz asked me: “What is the difference between a fool and a wise man?” After a short pause, he replied: “The difference is simple: a wise man keeps the important issues of life – important, and makes sure that the trivial issues remain trivial. The fool does the opposite. For him, important issues become the trivial ones, while he considers the trivial issues to be important.”
Similarly, we too must “make the important – important.” We all want to make the world a better place. We all care deeply about our communities and our country. We all try to nurture our families with morals, ethics and values. These are the issues that ought to forever remain important. And we ought to forever remain wise.
2. The question we ought to ask: Soon after the 1973 Yom Kippur war, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, who later became the Chief Rabbi of Israel, visited the late Lubavitcher Rebbe to seek his advice. During their conversation, the Rebbe asked Rabbi Lau what was the mood “in the streets of Israel.” Rabbi Lau responded that people are asking, “What will be?”
The Rebbe grabbed Rabbi Lau’s arm and replied passionately: “Jews don’t ask ‘What will be?’ Jews ask: ‘What are we going to do?’ ”
Asking, “what will be,” has never been the Jewish approach. If Moses had asked “what will be” instead of confronting Pharaoh, and demanding that he “let my people go and serve God,” our nation may have endured many more years of slavery. Indeed, it is our choice. If we ask “what will be?” we will have become a visionless nation, roaming through life without a direction of purpose and meaning. Yet, if we ask “what we are going to do?” and heed this call with actions of goodness and deeds of kindness, we will undoubtedly become good-doers and difference-makers, who can change the world.
3. The General of Generals: Despite the many political fluctuations and waves of change, one thing remains certain and unchanged: God is still in charge. God has, and will forever continue to, manage the affairs of our world. And His sovereignty will never be dependent on a president, or a ruler of any kind.
On Sept. 17, 1945, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower visited the saintly Klauzenberg Rebbe, Rabbi Yekutiel Yehuda Halbershtam at the Displaced Persons’ Camp set aside for Holocaust survivors in Feldafing, Germany.
Rabbi Halbershtam’s reputation as a “wonder rabbi” and a “holy man” who had survived the Nazis with superhuman strength and dignity, had reached the ears of the great general.
Gen. Eisenhower arrived during the morning services. Rabbi Halbershtam refused to speak with him until he had finished his prayers. When Rabbi Halbershtam was done, he apologized for his delay and explained to the General: “I was praying before the General of Generals, the King of Kings, the Holy One, Blessed be He. So, the earthly general had to wait.”
So, at this fateful moment, let us also place our trust in the General of generals who controls the hearts of all who hold positions of power. Let us lift our hearts up to the heavens, and – reciting the traditional Jewish prayer – plead to Him:
“Master of the universe: Pour out Your blessings on our president, government, judges and officers. Strengthen their hands and enlighten them with the rules of Your justice, so that peace, tranquillity, happiness and freedom will never depart from our land. Bless us and our families, and bless us all together so we may become Your agents of goodness and instruments of light, to all of our surroundings.
May it be Your will that the glory of Your presence dwell in the work of our hands. Now and forever.”
Rabbi Pinchas Allouche is the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Tefillah. This article first appeared on the Times of Israel blog.