Our Nation’s Soul

Why the electoral map is even better for Joe Biden than it looks -  CNNPolitics

Well, here we are. Many of us have spent close to the past week in a state of acute exhaustion. We have been refreshing the pages of our chosen news websites and television stations, wondering where “the count” currently stood. Whatever your particular political leanings happen to be, I do not think that there can be much doubt that something far greater than politics stood at the center of the United States of America during this election cycle. We stood on the border of light, and we wondered as the Mishkan T’Filah wonders; Where shall our hearts turn?

We seem to have our answer, and it is important that people take the time to celebrate. There is no denying the fact that we all could use a reason to rejoice during such troubling times. So many who opposed the elected candidate do not feel this joy, and we will still find our country deeply polarized. It is now that I bring forward the words of Rabbi Eleazar, which can be found in the Talmud:

“When the Holy One assigns high rank to a man, He assigns it to his children and his children’s children unto the end of all generations. But if that man becomes arrogant, the Holy One brings him low” (B. Meg 13b). 

If we look at Rabbi Eleazar’s excerpt at face-value, we can simply attribute his words to the discussion of royal bloodlines. A king makes a king makes a king ad nauseum.What I see is a call for responsibility from our leaders; a responsibility not only to the people that the leader is serving, but to legacy, the future, and to the Divine spark within all things. After all, does arrogance historically exclude one from being king? There have certainly been arrogant kings, and they remained in power for quite some time. Rabbi Eleazar seems to be indicating that the responsibility to justice and righteousness of a ruler cannot be ignored–at least not for long. 

Let us look at the state of affairs in our own country. Our newly minted President-elect has been chosen by God. Yes, by God, because I believe that we all contain the fragments that collectively compose God. We have chosen a leader with the trust that he will use his power with an eye toward Tikkun Olam, and a drastic betterment for the future of this world. Climate change, racial inequality, women’s reproductive rights, the rights of the LGBTQ community; all of these issues and many more hang in the balance. Not only will our new leader make a lasting impact that will attach itself to his own name, but also the name of his children, and to all of those who used their power to give him his. We hope for a leader who shows caring and humility.  

We have seen how the flipside of this works in terms of leadership. We can now begin clearing our national throat of the unholiness and arrogance that has been poorly posing as leadership. Rabbi Eleazar said of an arrogant leader that, “…the Holy One brings him low.” This has just played out before our very eyes. The Talmud tells us, “When the shepherd is lost, so are the sheep” (PRE 42; B. BK 52a). A few years ago our country chose a shepherd who not only seemed to be lost, but quick to anger and erratic. We lost too many sheep along the way, as the arrogance of the shepherd uncovered a heart as hardened as a pharaoh’s. Now the Divinity that lives inside of the people has spoken, and it has brought him down. If he will ever see the error of his own ways, and find his way to some form of teshuvah is yet to be determined. 

We can only move forward with a new leadership, and hope that we can find some hints of Moses. The Moses who took Yitro’s advice in Exodus and appointed “…capable men out of all Israel, and appointed them heads over the people” (Ex. 18:25). This is likely a good place to talk about the “capable men” portion of that verse. We have our first woman Vice President, and it is long past high time for this to have occurred. We need good women and men helping to lead our country. A diverse and inclusive cabinet is a promise that must be kept in order to maintain the proper perspective that will truly represent the breadth of this land. Exodus 19:14 says, “And Moses went down from the mount unto the people.” The Talmud asserts that Moses went directly to the people, not to his own house to deal with his own affairs, as he always had the best interest of those whom he was serving at heart. As our nation heals, we certainly crave a leader who will tend to the issues of the people first and foremost, as we have just suffered through one who is truly more concerned with his own affairs than anything else. 

I would like to begin concluding with another bit from Rabbi Eleazar, who clearly was very interested in the subject of leadership. The great Rabbi said, “Any leader who guides a community gently will merit guiding it in the world-to-come” (B Sanh 92a). I hope we are on our way to a gentle leader, who will demonstrate compassion, and an overtly kind character. I have hope (I have been using the word “tikvah” much lately) that our new leader will prove to be the humble and gentle leader that would have made Rabbi Eleazar, and will make all of us, proud. 

Let us end with the Shehecheyanu Blessing, which is generally recited when something is done for the first time in a given year. It is also recited before the eating of “first fruits,” which feels so appropriate given the brand new beginning that many feel has commenced today. May the next chapter of this country bear so much fruit for all of us. May we all come together, heal, and restore the neshamah of our nation. 

.בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה, יְיָ אֱלֹהֵינוּ, מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ וְהִגִּיעָנוּ לַזְּמַן הַזֶּה

Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, shehecheyanu, v’kiy’manu, v’higiyanu laz’man hazeh.

“Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.”

L’Shalom,

Joshua

Published by Joshua Gray

I am Joshua Gray. I am a husband, father, not-for-profit-worker by day, and a former professional actor/singer. I am very active in the Jewish community in my area, helping to teach at religious school on Sundays, while also serving on the board of trustees at my local temple. My relationship with Judaism is a joy of mine, and I find great pleasure in studying texts and learning more and more Hebrew. I still enjoy warbling tunes, and I even got to sing the Kol Nidre on Yom Kippur, which was a definite highlight. Please feel free to contact me with any ideas for topics, conversations, or general inquiries. Shalom!

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