| Second Thoughts |

How to View a Circus

All this is unacceptable, and is a perversion of how mankind was meant to live

 

The mudslinging season known as the presidential election is upon us. As passions intensify, we will discover new frontiers of vilification and defamation. One candidate will be portrayed as somnolent and comatose, and the other will be portrayed as a congenital liar and con man. And on next January 20, one of them will become the leader of the free world. It’s enough to cause us to daven with even greater kavanah....

Perhaps, in order to preserve our sanity in these critical times, it is best to view the election season as an entertaining circus that should not distract us from more serious matters. Therefore, I will toss some calm sobriety into the raging maelstrom, a simple idea that goes beyond partisan politics and that — before you jump to conclusions — is neither anti nor pro any one candidate or party. Rather, it is pro-Torah and pro-sanctity.

Jews today are beset by many issues: Merubim tzarchei amcha (Berachos 29b) — increased anti-Semitism around the world, openly anti-Semitic members of the US Congress, the need for funding for Jewish education, communal security against the thugs who would harm Jews and our institutions, continued support for the State of Israel.

But overriding all else is a peril of which many of us are not aware; i.e., that shameless immorality, dishonesty, lawlessness, and G-dlessness are so very common that one can easily become inured to such behavior and accept it as normal.

Therefore, the obvious must be stressed: all this is unacceptable, and is a perversion of how mankind was meant to live. The “I-can-do-whatever-makes-me-feel-good” attitude permeates society. It pounds away at us incessantly, and could very quickly, however indirectly, exert corrosive impact on our neshamos and dilute the kedushay within us — even if we don’t behave that way ourselves.

Like coronavirus, it is invisible and insidious, and one can become infected asymptomatically, chas v’shalom, without being aware of it. Polluted air appears to be breathable; it is only later that its effects become visible. In this spiritual pandemic no one is invulnerable.

A specific example: the Torah’s strictures against the gender-related aberrations of the Egyptians and the Canaanites may be 3,500 years old, but they are as relevant today as they were at Sinai. (Since this is a family magazine, I will avoid specifics….) Today, however, the trampling of these prohibitions has become a sign of sophistication and openness. The more one disregards them, the more “woke” one is. To speak out against these abominations (the Torah’s word is to’eivah ) marks one as intolerant, or uncaring, or primitive, or bigoted, or a misogynist — or all of the above.

Parenthetically, the trampling of Torah norms is not limited to the outside world. Religious Jews should be just as revolted and embarrassed by financial dishonesty and chicanery when perpetrated by those who wear yarmulkes and beards and adorn their names with sacred nomenclatures — even though, fortunately, this is uncommon — as we are revolted and embarrassed by those who brazenly preach and practice the gender abominations of our times. Each type of behavior is a transgression and an affront not only to G-d; it can blemish and degrade the personal spirituality and sanctity even of the most upright and G-d-fearing. We can add here: In fact, corrupt business practices are also referred to as being a “to’eivah” in this week’s sedrah (Devarim 25:17).

It is what it is, as they say. One cannot easily change the sordid facts of life in this 21st century. But there are some crucial first steps. The initial step is to recognize the danger, and not to assume that a religious Jew is immune from this spiritual virus. Most of us are not able to follow Rambam’s advice when society is totally evil: move to a desert as a last resort (Deios 6:1). But there are other ways to inoculate ourselves: through serious prayer, serious Torah study, serious mitzvos, serious introspection, serious chesed and tzedakah — all of which provide some protective insulation — plus a careful evaluation of what we see and hear.

Which brings us full circle: in this election season, religious Jews in particular need to carefully evaluate all candidates for office. We have immediate needs, and we also have long-term ideals as an am kadosh. Both the immediate and the long-term are vital. But in providing for our immediate needs, we should not overlook the long-term ideals of morality and holiness — even if, given no other choice, we cast our votes for politicians who meet only the practical needs. But however we vote, it is important not to forget the ideals of sanctity that transcend all else and define us as Jews. We march to the beat of a different drummer.

All this goes beyond pro-Republican or Democrat. Instead, the frenetic campaign is an opportunity for us — especially during this Yamim Noraim season — not to get caught up in election passions, but to step back and remember who we are.

 

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 826)

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