It's the day when as a community, time and again we fail mightily in our designated role on this earth
This was the week of the day called Election Day in the United States. But I prefer to call it something else.
When one stops to consider it, this business of elections is quite an amazing phenomenon from a Jewish perspective. Here’s a day that arrives every other year, and with even greater intensity every fourth year, that actually poses a massive nisayon to a frum Jew. And unless he’s mentally prepared to face it, he might well fail the test.
For months in the run-up to this day, he’s inundated — even if all he takes into his home is Jewish media — with punditry and polling and ads and endorsements and much more, all designed to make him think it’s the voters who will decide the fate of the government and its various officials. And he’s warned ominously that with his one vote he too plays some tiny role in this man-controlled drama. As the day itself approaches, both the volume and the pitch of the onslaught reach a zenith.
But what happened to the words we uttered so fervently in unison just a few weeks back, phrases such as “Hamamlich melachim v’lo hameluchah” (Hashem coronates kings and ultimate kingship is His) and “Mi yishafel u’mi yarum” (Who will fall and who will rise)? Or how about just a basic “Yisrael betach baShem”? Hashem alone runs the world, with no apparent exception I’m aware of for mortal politicians, federal, state or local. For us Torah Jews, this is as basic as it gets.
In the choices we make in our personal lives, from momentous to seemingly inconsequential, many of us try to live our days based on that fundamental truth. When I was at the supermarket this week stocking up on dessert for the upcoming Shabbos, I opted for the more expensive sorbet because it tastes better, and because I actually believe the truth of Chazal’s teaching that a person’s annual allotted income doesn’t include Shabbos expenses. (I admit I didn’t buy the most expensive item in the freezer, which I hope doesn’t peg me as mikotnei emunah.)
And then along comes election season and the authentic bitachon we’ve painstakingly worked to acquire in our daily lives absorbs a massive shock to the system. Everywhere one goes, in shul and yeshivah, the grocery store and the mikveh, political prognostication rules the day. G-d is nowhere to be found. It’s not — G-d forbid — that He’s unmentionable. He’s just not mentioned.
And that’s why I prefer to call it Deflection Day. It’s when we deflect what ought to be our focus on the Prime Cause and Mover of Events and instead give our rapt attention to exit polls and incoming vote totals. It’s the season when rather than “hope to Hashem,” we pin our desperate hopes on some pathetically impotent mortal.
IT’S THE DAY WHEN as a community, time and again we fail mightily in our designated role on this earth, that of a goy kadosh — a holy nation chosen to bring G-d-consciousness to humanity. Perhaps we actually do behave like a “goy kadosh,” indeed, a heilige non-Jew, our sacred-looking outer trappings masking the fact that we think and talk about politics not a whit differently from our gentile neighbors.
Each of us, in our personal lives, faces a host of tests to our emunah and bitachon. Like everything else in our spiritual growth, we win some and lose some, we progress and regress, but hopefully over time we move higher in our awareness of Hashem’s control over our lives. What makes election season seem so different, so alien in Jewish terms, is that it’s as if we’re suddenly struck by an attack of mass amnesia. All the inspiring shiurim we’ve heard and internalized, all the best-selling books on bitachon fade from memory in a split-second because some politico or pundit with whom we share neither values nor worldview warns us in the most ominous terms that THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT ELECTION IN OUR LIFETIMES and that THIS WILL BE THE END OF AMERICA AS WE KNOW IT.
Yet haven’t gedolei Torah going back many years encouraged Jews to vote? Certainly, but purely as an exercise in hishtadlus. Just as we put in significant effort to find a job and consult a doctor, knowing all the while that Hashem is in charge and we’re just going through the motions, so do we vote to express our views and to let politicians know we’re here and to show gratitude to a welcoming host country. But no adam gadol ever suggested trading in the truth of our precious bitachon for the sheker of all the electoral majorities in the world. —
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 935. Eytan Kobre may be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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