by Rabbi Shawn Zell
Come on people now, smile on your brother. Everybody get together, try to love one another right now. And don’t forget to pass the marijuana. Those first two sentiments came to mind when Fantasyland clergy, in response to the recent presidential election, appealed to their parishioners and handed down heaps of hooey. If sages of the Talmud are divided regarding the arrival of Moshiach – there are those maintain that Moshiach’s arrival will be of an evolutionary nature, while others argue that Moshiach arrival will be of a revolutionary nature – why would today’s men and women of the cloth, presume to think that exhortations of unity over a quadrennial election would suddenly be heeded?
Unity? Were Adam and Eve united, when Adam, who should have been seeking pardon in the Garden, threw his wife under the bus before G-d, when the two of them were called on the carpet? Was there unity between Ishmael and Yitzchak? Was there unity between Yaakov and Eisav? People wake up! If domestic abuse has increased over this latest period of time with husbands and wives together at home, day after day, because of the pandemic, what makes one think, that unity can be achieved on the heels of an election, filled with acrimony and rancor?
There is however a totally different type of unity, that is much more realistic and achievable than the kumbaya moment, envisioned by starry-eyed religious leaders. It is no mere happenstance, that the donning of Tefillin is a daily prerequisite in Judaism. One need only look at the “Shel Rosh” or head tefillin and “Shel Yad” or arm tefillin, directly opposite the heart, to realize that a human, by a design, is a combination of the cerebral and the visceral or stated differently, a mixture of thinking or feeling. If the human were totally cerebral, then he would be little different than an automaton. Conversely, if the human were totally visceral, then he would uncontrollably be a manic depressive, incapable of relationships. An ideal society is where humans can restrain themselves so that elections become a united effort of the cerebral and the visceral, where the voter knows the issues at hand and feels that his candidate will make good on campaign promises. That is a realistic call for unity. There is a certain paradox to elections. We have been conditioned by society, to cast our votes for a candidate who promises to make our lives better. Yet, as much as elections purportedly reveal about the aspirant, when all is said and done, elections tell us about ourselves. Sadly, many of us have yet to discover who we really are and what we really need. As such, we would do well to ask, “are we really voting responsibly”? As surprising as this may be, one of the most misused items in our homes is the mirror. For those who are concerned about our appearance and dress, a mirror is indispensable. Yet, it is unconscionable that are mirror be limited to reflect external appearance. Ultimately, each of us ought to stand in front of a mirror to get in touch with our inner feelings. I have always been a firm believer that one must be able to live with oneself. But in order to do so, one must be able to look at oneself in the mirror as well. It was during one election year, that I was speaking with an individual, who consistently voted for the Libertarian Party. When I reminded him, as had so many before me, that doing so was a wasted vote, he wisely replied, “I have to look at myself in the mirror”. Unity, true unity is being able to look at yourself in the mirror – taking a good long hard look – after you have submitted your ballot.
Those of us who grew up watching Westerns, either at movie theaters or in the comforts of our own homes, are carriers of a disease known as “clearcutitus”. While “clearcutitus” is not lethal, it can be dangerous, especially when it comes to elections, in that those afflicted with the malady of “clearcutitus” can only see life as either black or white, bad or good. Once we vaccinate ourselves against “clearcutitus”, we realize that rarely, if ever, is an election about the “good guy” versus the “bad guy”. Rather, elections are about wrestling with oneself, realizing that there is no such thing as a perfect candidate or even a great candidate. Only after recognizing that each candidate is replete with failings and foibles, can one wrestle with oneself and proceed to cast a ballot, hoping and praying that the proper choice was made in light of all other considerations. Recall if you will that the biblical Yaakov wrestled no fewer than three times (viz. the angel, his unscrupulous father-in-law, and preparing to meet Eisav replete with entourage). It was only then, that the Torah tells us that Yaakov arrived at the city of Shechem shaleim, in unity.
Personally, I am much more concerned about the unity of the cerebral and visceral, the unity of being at peace with oneself, and the unity that follows wrestling with oneself. Living in a country that fosters diversity, let us strive for mentschlechkeit toward others, not unity.