If I were elected to be king of the Jews, I would immediately invoke the 11th commandment: “Thou shalt vote.” We Jews remember all too well the countless places where we lived and struggled. There was no justice, no representation, no power. We relied on bribes and payoffs and ransoms to protect ourselves. We had nothing else. We were the hapless objects of history, moved around like pawns on a chess board.
The sense of powerlessness can become toxic. It sometimes rendered us as passive. We believed that there was no way to alter the game. It’s like that terrific scene in the Torah portion Shlach Lecha when the Israelite scouts return from their reconnaissance mission. They tell Moses and the Israelites, “We felt so diminished compared to the inhabitants of Canaan. We must have looked like grasshoppers in their eyes.” Notice that no Canaanite made that comparison. The grasshopper analogy was based on the scouts’ own fragile sense of vulnerability. It was about their lack of confidence. They assumed a powerless stance and could not move beyond it.
If the nadir of Jewish powerlessness was the Holocaust, then the life-altering rise to power was in 1948 with the birth of the state of Israel. That event changes everything. The world saw Jews in a brand new light. More importantly, Jews saw Jews in a new light. We were powerful. We were resolute. No one would mess with us anymore. The 6 Day war underscored that expression of power.
It is worth mentioning that Israel has shown us what happens when the exercise of power becomes hubris. When those in power become arrogant and make decisions utterly devoid of a desire for compromise or collaboration, it creates true obstacles to understanding that the other is us.
To live in an open and free nation is a blessing of profound dimensions. To have a say in our political destiny is still rather new for us along the spectrum of history. The 115th Congress’s freshman class boasts the largest percentage of Jewish members in recorded history, at 8%; we’re 2% of the total US population. In the 114th Congress, just 1% of freshmen members were Jews. It’s truly a modern political miracle.
Only it doesn’t happen via miracles. Campaigning is hard, sweaty, backbreaking, challenging work, regardless of the level of office. Ask any TBA member who’s run for local or regional office.
I love this country, and I love my city of residence. I am proud that TBA is a voting site. I don’t vote in the temple’s ward, and I’m sorry about that. I regard the voting stations like shrines to democracy, a system of government that eschews any co-mingling of church and state. No one is registered to vote by religion or race. All citizens are invited to the table of freedom.
I won’t tell you who I’m voting for in this Before Shabbat. Ask me in the parking lot… But I will tell you this: I am voting on November 7th. I can also say to you, my beloved congregation, “Thou shalt vote!”