Many pundits have claimed that the upcoming 2020 presidential election next Tuesday, is “the most important of our lifetime,” and are encouraging everyone to “go out and vote.”
But how should we vote? No, I don’t mean to ask “whom should we vote for?” (I’ve long been against mixing rabbinics and politics).
Rather, how — with what mindset — must we vote? How should we approach these polarizing elections? How can we vote for one candidate over another, without filling our hearts with emotions of hatred and anger toward the other side?
Here are five perspectives which will, hopefully, provide some vital tools on how we should truly vote, as we are quickly approaching the 2020 presidential election:
We can battle ideas, but we can't battle people
It is no secret that this election hasripped our country apart. Our status as “one nation” under God is menaced by increasing discords, of all sorts. In some cases, these divisions have become so severe that they have devastated friendships and family relationships.
And so, first and foremost, even before we cast our ballot, we must first adhere to Judaism’s fundamental idea that although our world is populated with people of all kinds, we were all 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. We can argue about the content of politics, but we cannot argue about the inherent dignity of our fellow human beings.
Shortly after the infamous Crown-heights riots of 1990, the then-mayor of New York, David Dinkins, visited the late Lubavitcher Rebbe to ask for a blessing for peace “between the two groups — the Jews and Blacks — in their neighborhood.”
The Rebbe’s response was stirring: “Not two people and two sides, but one people on one side.”
Indeed, intrinsically, we are all united by the image of God with which we were all created. We can be externally different, but internally, we are “one people, on one side.” Or, as the great seal of the United States proclaims: “E Pluribus Unum – out of many, one.”
Rethinking 'likes,' 'pokes' and other knee-jerk reactions
We live in an age in which many feel compelled to voice their reaction to every story under the sun, including many political stories and statements.
The reasons for this phenomenon are many. Some feel empowered by having their voices heard. Others think that it is their social duty to respond to every message, to warn their friends of imminent threats to our society.
They may be right. But I beg to disagree. Not every Facebook post is worthy of our likes, pokes and comments. Not every tweet is worthy of our re-tweet. And not every text is worthy of our response.
For in the race to speak back, we often forget to think. In the urge to reply, our swirl of emotions often eclipses our clarity of thought. And in the heat of disagreement, our minds often take the back seat.
Recently, a lady shared with me that she hasn’t spoken to her brothers in over 10 years because of a small fight that deteriorated with ongoing gossip among her family and friends. Unfortunately, as a rabbi, I’ve encountered these family feuds many a time.
But I asked her, I asked myself and I ask you: Does every word of gossip one hears, need to be repeated? Does every piece of polarizing news need to be reported? If we know we’re not helping the situation, we’d surely be better off controlling our urges and staying quiet.
In the wise words of the 18th century sage, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Morgenstern: “All that is thought should not be said, all that is said should not be written, all that is written should not be published, and all that is published should not be read.”
Master thyself first
Many believe that their upcoming vote will help fight all that is bad in our country – from racism to bigotry, from sexism to fanaticism. Additionally, some people are not content with just ‘voting,’ but they also engage themselves in many worthy endeavors that seek to better our world.
Yet, sadly, in the pursuit to better the world, many fail to better themselves. In their desire to do good, they forget to be good. Their good work is then tarnished, and sometimes overcome, by their hypocrisy and self-righteousness.
My beloved mentor, Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz of blessed memory, once advised me, so poignantly: “Know that the greatest obstacle to me, Adin, is me. The greatest obstacle to you, Pinchas, is you. But once you learn to master yourself, you will not have any problem in mastering the entire world.”
And so, as we are about to cast a tangible ballot that can better our society, let us first cast an intangible ballot that will aim to better ourselves. Our world will then be so much brighter, within and without.
The smaller stages count more than the bigger stages
“If you had to condense the message of Judaism into one word, which would you pick?”
This was the question I once asked my beloved mentor, Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz of blessed memory. I thought he would say something banal, like “mitzvahs,” or even, “love.” But his brilliant answer astounded me: “Consistency,” he replied without a hiccup of hesitation.
He was right. After all, history is filled with examples of individuals who made big splashes quickly, and then just as fast, vanished into obscurity. And we wonder: What happened to all that hidden potential? Where did it all go?
Don’t get me wrong: We should certainly seize every opportunity we have to make a difference on the big stages of life, in the realm of politics and in other realms too.
But let us not forget that fundamental and lasting changes occur on the smaller stages, with our consistent actions of goodness and kindness. Like the time we dedicate daily to praying to God not only with our mouth but with our heart and mind as well. Or like the two minutes, we spend doing homework with our children. Or like the extra phone call, we make to mend a broken relationship. Or like the assistance we continuously offer to friends and strangers alike.
Our world can be impacted by elections and political powers. But it will only be changed for the better by the consistency of our good deeds, each and every day.
The general of generals
In spite of the many uncertainties, one thing remains certain:
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 September 17, 1945, General Dwight D. Eisenhower visited the saintly Klauzenberg Rebbe, Rabbi Yekutiel Yehuda Halbershtam, at the DP camp set aside for Holocaust survivors in Feldafing, Germany.
General Eisenhower arrived during the morning services, but 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.”
And so, at this fateful moment of history, let us also place our trust in the General of generals who, in King Solomon’s words, “controls the hearts of all kings,” and all who hold positions of power, (see Proverbs 21:1). Let us lift our hearts up to the heavens, and plead to Him:
Oh, God! Guide all of our elected officials so that they may govern with ears to hear, eyes to see, hearts to feel and hands to help.
Grant them wisdom and justice, grace and empathy, so that they may continuously bring honor to Your name and Your blessing to humankind.
Fortify and inspire them, and us all, with humility and courage, strength and compassion, sensitivity and vision, wisdom and kindness, so that they may lead us ably and turn crisis into opportunity, bad into good, despair into hope, darkness into light, and help mold us all into your diverse yet united family on earth.
To quote our great teacher Moses, “May it be your will that the glory of your presence dwells in the work of our hands.” Indeed, may it dwell in the work of the hands of our political leaders and advisers, in the work of the hands of our courageous armed forces, and in the work of the hands of all of the citizens of our great state and of our great country. JN