In the coming days, millions of Americans will enter the voting booth. Contests of great consequence will finally come to a head, including those that matter significantly to Pennsylvania residents. Following untold dollars in campaign ads, social media drives, printed signs and slogans, new leaders will be named to local, state and national offices.
I believe strongly that politics has no place in the synagogue. I also believe strongly that the values of our people should be at the forefront of who we are as a synagogue community and who we are in our individual lives. While politics are about figureheads and legislation, values are about how, why and when we take a stand. If politics are about endorsements and the innerworkings of Congress, our values urge us toward those enduring principles we hold onto no matter which party has a majority.
I pray that you will vote on Tuesday and vote from a place of Jewish values. I like to believe that I enter the voting booth as a son, a brother, a husband and a father, but most concisely I enter the booth as Jew. This singular identity marker encapsulates who I am, the air I breath, what I believe, and the very world I want to help create for my children.
The Talmud will have much to say on voting, (as the Talmud will have much to say on everything). The very first volume of the Talmud reminds us that ‘we may only appoint a leader after consulting with the community’ (Tractate Brachot, 55a). Rabbi Yitzhak teaches that God only appointed Bezalel to oversee the building of the Tabernacle after consulting with Moses and the Israelites, demonstrating a democratic, rather than tyrannical process. Later in the Talmud, in Tractate Avodah Zarah among others, we will read about the necessity to create and live within the boundaries of civil government. In Tractate Bava Kamma we are famously told that ‘the law of the land is the law’ and thus are meant to live with and among the society we find ourselves, not separated or detached.
Here we see not only the Jewish obligation toward taking part in democratic processes, and thus bringing our voice and ideas to the broader community, but the value in democracy itself, which – at its best – allows for a diversity of voices to be lifted up and heard.
I hope you will lift up your own voice this coming Election Day. Give yourself a chance to be heard. Show your children that being heard matters. I hope you will remember how many generations of voices had their voices silenced by oppressive forces and hate. America is very much a work in progress to be sure, with brokenness that is widespread, but we cannot underestimate what it means to live in a time and place where we have the opportunity to participate in the on-going creation of our government and the very future of this nation.
May we go from strength to strength, together.