As a rabbi and Jewish educator, part of my job is to both comfort people at difficult times and to challenge and teach them how to face the future. Both are difficult for me this morning, living in a country that is seriously divided. As CNN reported yesterday, 58% of voters indicated that they would be “scared” or “concerned” if Donald Trump were to win the election http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/08/politics/first-exit-polls-2016/index.html. I have no words of comfort for those 58%, nor do I have words of exuberance for those celebrating the election.
What I do have, and offer as a rabbi and Jewish educator, are prayers and aspirations for the future I would like to see, and that our communities would most benefit from. My prayer list:
- For President-elect Trump to have the humility and critical thinking to seek out and bring on board the best people to be his partners and advisors. May he move away from his belief that “I alone” can lead change or that “I know more than the generals”, and instead surround himself with the people who will help him to lead
- For those who thought that Donald Trump was giving a green light, either passively or actively, for hatred and bigotry (including anti-Semitism and racism) to crawl back under the rocks from which they came, and for our country to make progress towards being a society that doesn’t hate
- For members of the Senate and House of Representatives, in which his political party holds the majority, to step forward with integrity and without regard to party lines, to fulfill the important role of checks and balances that will keep the executive branch from any possibility of overstepping
- For the wisdom that President-elect Trump and the Congress need in appointing Supreme Court justices and other judges that will not lead the national backwards in regards to issues what we’ve moved forward: women’s rights (including the right not to be harassed), reproductive / choice rights, LGBTQ rights, and other freedoms that have been guaranteed in recent years
- For a system that will improve or replace the Affordable Care Act and continue to provide health care for those who have been covered and who need to be covered
- For President-elect Trump to break his campaign promises:
- To prosecute or jail Secretary Clinton – She has served her country well, and has endured more than enough investigations, none of which found her guilty of anything deserving of prosecution. We have a justice system; It did its job. Move on.
- To require allies (including Israel) to repay all foreign aid. It’s called aid for a reason, and serves a strategic purpose.
- To ban all Moslems from entering the country. It’s a really, really bad precedent.
May our incoming president be a force for good in our country and across the world. And let us say: Amen.
I recently participated in a really great learning experience. A group of truly wonderful people gathered to learn from one another and from some of the greats, who are doing wonderful things in the Jewish community. The only real problem was the food. Some of the time, the food was great quality and served poorly, with lines stretching out well out of the dining room and into the hall. Some of the time, the food was terrible, such as beginning the day with cold hard omelettes that were left unharmed on a buffet area. Some of the time, the wait staff just cleared the food too quickly, not realizing that attendees were in sessions and might arrive a little late.
At the end of the event, the dining room was half empty, as many participants decided to go out for the meal, understandably. I sat next to a gentleman who I did not know and we got acquainted. And he spoke with me about his work which, among other things, supports “traditional marriage”. Realizing that I was going to strongly disagree with him, I was all primed to not like the guy and even to not respect him. As we were leaving the dinner table, he turned to the African-American waitress for our table, addressed her by the name that was on her name tag, and proceeded to thank her for serving us dinner.
And there you have it. Hakarat Hatov, the incredibly Jewish value of recognizing when another human being has done something good for you. And kavod, honoring the image of God, wherever you find it. And I apologize to you, my new friend. Because even though your opinions and mine do not align, you have taught me an object lesson in kavod haberiot, respect for God’s creatures. And you reminded me that, even though our opinions might be different, I should never believe for a moment that I don’t have something to learn from you. Because now that I have learned from you, you are my teacher and therefore are always to be treated with respect.
Which bring us to the Israeli elections and American politics. Very few of my fellow Jewy Jews are neutrals when it comes to the recent Israeli elections or to President Obama. I have my opinions, too. But here’s the thing: At the end of a conference with poor food, a colleague showed me how to treat another human being with respect, despite her connection to the food. Same here: Whether you like President Obama or not, he is the president of the United States. And he is deserving of the kavod, the honor, that a president of the United States gets. That’s why the rabbis in ancient times wrote a berecha, a blessing to be recited when seeing a great secular ruler, regardless of whether we like his politics. And most every synagogue in the United States recites a prayer for the government that specifically asks God’s blessings for the president, whoever it may be. That kavod must carry into the very public arena of the Jewish press and of social media. Treating the president of the United States with anything less than honor, even when disagreeing, is nothing less than a chillul Hashem, a desecration of God’s name.
At the same time, the Israeli public has voted and will retain Prime Minister Netanyahu. Some love his views, some hate them. But he is the leader of the Jewish (albeit secular) state of Israel, and that earns him kavod. To denigrate him, or those who ran against him, is also shameful and a chillul Hashem.
Let’s hate bad food. And let’s disagree over our politics. But let’s never let it get in the way of treating people with the honor due them for their role in life, the leadership they exhibit and their creation as humans in the image of God.