Friday, November 11, 2016

Rabbi Benson on the Election

At the expense of those who will hear me share much the same words tonight at services, allow me to share with all of you some thoughts on the election.

Throughout this particularly bitter election cycle, I have largely resisted offering an opinion, rabbinic or personal, on the state of the race.  As some of you may know, my own leanings are such that my first, second, third and fourth choices for president all failed to be the two we had choose from in the end, so the outcome was, for me, always going to be something of a letdown.

But beyond that essentially trivial point, speaking to you as your rabbi, I want what I have to say to you to be of value, and given our congregation’s intelligence and character, I don’t want to waste your time telling you things you already know or telling you things you don’t know but you have no way to make matter in your lives.  So to say at this point, we must learn to listen to each other, to be gracious in victory and dignified in defeat, to stick to our principles while recognizing others will be doing the same – you know all that, you don’t need me.  And I hope your parents should have already covered the part about calling people names being bad and not saying anything if you can’t say it nicely. 

And for those of you on either side who would say that those rules just don’t apply in a situation like this one, again I say, your parents should have already covered the bit about not calling people bad names and not saying anything if you can’t say it nicely.

So what do I presume to think I can share with you that matters and that you can do something with?  In the real version of the prayer for the country, not the sanitized and frankly unctuous version that appears in our current prayer books, the tone is very different, but it tells us the one truth I want you to learn from me regarding all this. 
The prayer prays for the king, or president, or officers, whoever, of the country in which Jews live, and prays the nicey-nice stuff we all like such as, “sustain them and deliver them from distress and misfortune” but it goes on to say, “in mercy, inspire them to deal kindly with us and all Israel.”  Jews knew that it was far from certain that any country in which Jews lived as a minority, that the government was going to make Jews and Judaism a top priority, unless it was to persecute them, and so that there was a real need to pray God spare the Jews from those who held them at their mercy.

But that’s not it, the prayer goes on to say, “in their [the leaders’] days and our days may Judah be saved and Israel dwell secure and a redeemer come to Zion.”  This is the key passage and the lesson.

The prayer was composed with the good sense to recognize that earthly things like governments and leaders can come and go and are all, good and bad, subject to the frailties of humankind.  What matters the most, for us from a Jewish perspective, is that we remain champions of, yes, Jewish values such as acting with respect for others and caring about the poor, but really, truly, most importantly, of Judaism. 

I hope that this election will not dampen your civic spirit however you may feel about its outcome.  But more than that I pray that it ignites in you a passion and commitment to the timeless and eternal mission of Judaism in this world, the power and the poetry of Jewish practice and Jewish living; that even if we are taught to “pray for the welfare of the country where I have sent you into exile” (Jer.29:7) we will live our lives strengthened and enlivened by the knowledge that as Jews we are part of the millennia old project for living life as a reflection of the Divine Will.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Benson

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