Elections and Selections by Rabbi Zell
Voting patterns aside – for decades, close to 80% of Jews in this country have typically voted for one political party over the other – election day ought to have a greater significance among our people than just about any other group in this nation. For those of us with a modicum of knowledge of the Tana’ch (all 24 books of the Bible), it ought to be quite clear, that originally elections played no role whatsoever among our people. Rather than election, Judaism, biblically speaking, is rooted in selection.
How ironic, that a mere three days prior to going to the polls, we read in the Torah about the very first “selection” results known to our biblical ancestors. There is absolutely a record in the Torah of Abraham mounting an election campaign or garnering votes to become the first Jew. Instead, the Torah tells us, that it was HaShem who selected Abraham as the perfect candidate to introduce to the world an entirely new way of relating to a Supreme Being. Unlike a presidential hopeful, who asks for a mandate to be sent to the nation’s capital, Abraham ended up being uprooted and directed to G-d’s country, a destination totally unknown to him. Granted, HaShem promised Abraham that he (Abraham) would be made into a great nation and that he (Abraham) would be blessed, but these assurances could hardly be connected to any election, in that Abraham was not in any way campaigning. Moreover, there was no constituency to which Abraham was responsible. Abraham was solely responsible to HaShem. Ultimately, it was Abraham who confronted HaShem. “Now that You have selected me, how do You intend to make good on Your word?’’ asks Abraham, who was unanimously chosen for the position.
In its early days, El Al, Israel’s national airline was the butt of a number of jokes. Among those jokes, was one where a passenger asks the flight attendant, who had arrived with the food cart at dinner time, “what are the choices?” The surly stewardess, snapped back: “Choices? Eat or go hungry!” According to our rabbinic sages, a similar dialogue ensued at Mount Sinai between HaShem and our ancestors, seven weeks after having been liberated from Egyptian bondage. The giving – and by extension, the receiving – of the Torah was not up for a vote. “If you are prepared to receive the Torah, wonderful! If, on the other hand, you are planning to reject the Torah, this will be your grave” (Talmud: Avodah Zara 2b) What took place at Sinai was “selection” on the part of HaShem and not “election” on the part of the Children of Israel. As much as the Torah conveys a blueprint for democratic principles, its very existence is not, nor was it was ever based on any democratic accord with HaShem. What makes the Torah so unique, is that it serves as a contract between the human and the divine, replete with mutual obligations and responsibilities.
Our rabbinic sages relate that just prior to creating man, HaShem took counsel with the heavenly angels. In a short period of time, a passionate debate broke out in heaven, with the angels arguing both for and against the creation of the human species. HaShem reacted in a most whimsical fashion. “You go ahead and argue. I am going to go ahead and create. Creation of humans is not up for a vote”. Neither was the unique relationship that HaShem cultivated with our people up for a vote. “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that HaShem set His eyes on you and chose you, but because you were the fewest of all peoples” (Deuteronomy 7:7). In the best of governments, leaders are ephemeral. So much so, that the average American would be hard-pressed to list the last five presidents of this country. After all, presidents are voted in and at times, voted out. That is what a democracy is all about. Not so, Judaism. Despite perceptions to the contrary, HaShem selects for keeps. In return, HaShem expects never-ending loyalty.
In a healthy society, elections are a sure guarantee of satisfaction and glee to some, as well as dissatisfaction and sorrow to others. In the words of Sir Winston Churchill: “Democracy is the worst form of Government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”. Concentration Camp Selektions aside, selections are a reminder that the choice that we make, is rarely, if ever, at the expense of another person’s sense of well-being. Imagine if you will, a day and age when our society, culture, and government will foster Selection Day to replace Election Day. Should that ever occur, the only losers would be acrimony, divisiveness, and rancor.