Note: This article was originally written on November 11, 2020 for the December issue of the Scroll. I opted for a more timely topic, calendar wise and did not submit this one. So, this is a website exclusive.
Warning! This column contains unrestrained political commentary! Reader’s discretion is advised.
The country is aflame. Not literally, thank G-d. At least, not as I write this. What will be in the future is unknown. We certainly have seen enough rioting and destruction this year to last us a lifetime.
No, I mean politically. The election is over… Except it’s not. Biden has been declared the President-Elect, except that has not happened by any legal authority yet. President Trump is ready for political retirement, except he refuses to give in. Biden and the press are jumping the gun to prevent a legitimate challenge to a flawed election! Trump is preparing a coup d’etat to remain in office! OH MY GOODNESS! THE SKY IS FALLING! EVERYONE HEAD FOR THE SHELTERS!!!!!!
This cacophony of noise that we have been living in for far too long is not a good thing. We seem to have forgotten, as a country, that there is a process and we should have faith in it. But faith is in perilously short supply. Each camp wants to just foment one thing: fear and loathing of the other. And yes, I mean both sides: the left and the right.
Of course they do not want you to think, they just want you to react. They don’t want moderation, they want you as afraid, angry and motivated as they can make you. Don’t believe in the system that is the United States of America, believe in ME. Only I can make this country what it should be. Only I am the best person to lead this country. Be afraid of the other guy: he wants to enslave you, put you in chains, take away your guns, babies, money, etc. etc.
Frankly, I am sick of the stupidity. I am sick of seeing siblings at each other’s throats because they supported opposite sides. Seriously??
Of course, I always try to use this space to give a Torah perspective on things. What lessons do I learn from watching the insanity all around me?
Maimonides (Rambam), I believe, would view all this and shake his head. Maimonides was a big believer that moderation should be the rule. “The two extremes in each and every tendency is not a good way, and it is not proper for a man to follow them, nor to have himself instructed in them,” he writes in his Laws of Human Disposition (Hilchot De’ut, 1:3). He continues in his next Halachah, “The straight path is the mean disposition found in each and every tendency of all the human tendencies… Every man whose tendencies are mean tendencies of the middle-course, is called wise.” (ibid, 1:4).
When you think about it, there is great wisdom in this advice. A person who is of mean temperament tends to be more thoughtful and considerate. When one behaves at extremes, one reacts rather than thinks. While a quick reaction time can save your life sometimes, most times it can get you into trouble. Thinking and choosing is more important than feeling and reacting when it comes to making the right decision.
It seems to me that this country has forgotten this, if ever it really knew it.
I have seen men elected president that I thought unprepared for, and even unworthy of, the job. I have lived through terrible presidencies and great presidencies. I know the damage a poor president can bring and I know the advantages a good one can have. Above all, I know that this country is stronger than any one person or party. The United States of America is the country that beat back fascism and communism and secured freedom for hundreds of millions of people. The United States is at heart a compassionate nation that is always among the first to offer aid to all, even her enemies, when human life is at stake.
Someone once told me that he did not like the President’s “Make American Great Again” slogan. He did not like the word, “again.” Looking at this nation’s history, and its many faults, he felt that the United States did not merit to be called “great.”
I strongly disagree. My father came to this country with nothing but the shirt on his back and made something of himself. Not only did he achieve some measure of material success, he merited to be able to raise his family in the bosom of Torah and to practice his faith openly. I truly believe that this is a great, but far from perfect, nation. We have our problems and we have to work to fix them. But, if the measure of greatness is not to have problems, we will never be great. No nation is perfect and every nation on earth has the problems in its past, the issues of the present and the challenges of the future. The United States is no different.
So, I believe that we need to have faith. Not only in this country and its institutions but even more so in Hashem himself. This is all in His hands and the process will work its way through. On January 20th, we will have a president. Many people will celebrate and about an equal number will be upset and sad. Unity must be achieved and it cannot be sought with partisan slogans nor bought with bribes and gifts. This country has to learn the words of Maimonides and practice moderation. We have to define our issues with careful thought and consideration, not with emotion and recklessness. Then, we have to think of the best way to solve the issues. That is what I believe Maimonides would advise us and that is what I think we need to do.
How does this translate to us as a congregation and community? It seems simple. It starts with us respecting each other’s views. Be you on the right or the left, I am sure that all you want is what is best for this country. If we have that much in common, is that not something upon which we all can build? Disagreement is fine and it can be very healthy, if it includes communications and an honest attempt to work through differences. That too seems to be a forgotten art and we need to lead the way amongst ourselves.
In one way I do disagree with the President’s slogan. I see the United States as great right now. It is for us to work on maintaining the greatness that is this wonderful country regardless of which party controls the presidency. We can start doing that by taking a long, deep, and cleansing breath before we go out today. Remember that we all want the same thing and, as Maimonides said, the truth is usually somewhere in the middle and rarely at the extremes.
I am writing this article on November 11th, Veteran’s Day. Too many of our country’s finest have had to put themselves in harm’s way for us, and to defend our freedoms. Far too many never made it home. May G-d bless the armed forces of the United States of America and grant them success and safety. May he watch over them and us. And, above all, may he grant this great nation the blessing of peace.
“Thus He will judge among the nations And arbitrate for the many peoples, And they shall beat their swords into plowshares And their spears into pruning hooks: Nation shall not take up Sword against nation; They shall never again know war.” (Isaiah 2:3-4)