Destroying the Idols of The 2016 Election©
It’s the end of the campaign, the election is over. Roughly 50% of the country is upset, and roughly 50% of the country is exuberant. As far as Jews, the numbers are not so even: in our state of Florida, according to a recent study, 68% of Jews voted for Hillary and 28% for Trump. Nevertheless, as a rabbi, I have mainly stayed out of the presidential elections, and if you think I haven’t, you should hear from some of my colleagues who did talk about the election…a lot. I’ve talked about broad issues – I’ve talked about themes, but I’ve been careful not to upset anyone or make them feel excluded. But the election is over, and it’s time to time deal with the aftermath, and maybe it’s time to stop walking on egg shells, but it’s really not my personality. Seriously, it’s not part of my personality, and I took the Meyers Briggs personality test which proved it. In my personality test, it says that I stress harmony over everything. I am much more of an Aaron, a Rodef Shalom, then I am a Moses, a fiery prophet. Aaron is called a Rodef Shalom because he would bring people who were upset with each other together by telling one person what they wanted to hear, and then go to the other person and tell them what they wanted to hear, and eventually, they came together.
But there are things that must be said, and we don’t have a lot of time, so I can't give two sermons to two groups – I can't tell the Hillary supporters what the Trump supporters did wrong – and I can't tell the Trump supporters what the Hillary supporters did wrong– and so, rather than giving two sermons to two groups to make you all happy, I’m going to give one sermon to all of you – today, I’m going to be an equal opportunity offender.
I want to tell you about why I’m doing this, and it is because of a character we are introduced to in this week’s parashah, Avram.
To understand Avram, we have to understand what led up to Avram. 20 generations before Avram, Adam HaRishon and Eve were created - Adam was pure – he was literally made by God – he wasn't chosen by God, he was made by God. But a generation later, it didn't work out, and so after 10 generations, God starts over. God undoes creation, wipes out all life except for Noah, his family, and a few select animals. Noah was an Ish Tzadik Tamim Hayah B'dorotav – Noah was a righteous man in his generations, and whole-hearted and pure – and Noah walked with God. That's why Noah was chosen. God promises never to wipe humanity out again, but generations later, the people mess things up by building the Tower of Babel – we know what happened to them. So now, 10 generations later, we see this guy Avram walking around, and God starts creation over in a different way, on a smaller scale.
But the Torah does not introduce him like Noah, he just appears – but the rabbis fill in the blanks as to why Avram was chosen, and it's a message we must take to heart, because he can teach us how to walk lifnei Adonai – to walk before God – to take the first steps out of the chaos of the last two years.
By the time God says those famous words to Avram,
וַיֹּאמֶר יְי אֶל־אַבְרָם לֶךְ־לְךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ וּמִמּוֹלַדְתְּךָ וּמִבֵּית אָבִיךָ אֶל־הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אַרְאֶךָּ׃
Avram is already an older man, in his 90s. The Torah only tells us his lineage, but what type of young adult was he? For this answer, I want to tell you the story that is not in the Torah, but in the Midrash.
Avram, left alone with his father’s idols at the young age of 13, breaks the idols with a hammer, which he leaves in the hand of the biggest of the idols. His father Terach comes in, sees the devastation, asks who has caused it, and the young Avram replies, “Can you not see? The hammer is in the hands of the largest idol. It must have been him.” Terach replies, “But an idol is mere of wood and stone.” Avram replies, “Then, father, how can you worship them?” (Midrash Bereishit Rabbah 38:13). Young Avram, who was just 13 at the time, breaks the images of the time. He challenged the sacred cows – he wasn't afraid to call out the things we know are right but are afraid to challenge.
What have our idols been? Whether you are on the left, or the right, we must admit that racism, sexism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism are real. For months, we have been denying it on both sides. On the left, you said that people who were anti-Israel really weren't anti-Semitic – when academics want to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel, it's about Israel, not about Jews. And sure, when they show a caricature of a Jew killing Palestinian children, it's terrible, but it's not anti-Semitic. And when people accuse Israel of genocide, it's meant to be a metaphor, not taken literally!
On the right, you said that the people flying swastikas were just on the fringe. When latinos are bullied, when gays and lesbians are attacked – it's sad, but there aren't so many incidences – the media is probably blowing things out of proportion, yeah, that's it – everything's going to be fine once the election is over, they'll go back into the holes they came out from.
Let me inform you all something, something you may not want to hear – those people who you voted with on both sides, they are still here, and they've been here for years, and they'll continue to be here.
The election is over, there are no more votes to be made – you have no one else to prove yourself to – it's time for us to destroy the idols of political ideologies.
It's time we recommit ourselves, both sides, to our Jewish heroes, like Elie Wiesel who passed this year. Elie Wiesel who famously said the following words when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize:
“...I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.”
And so we must re-commit ourselves to the cause of fighting racism, bigotry, and yes, the anti-Semitism that is very much alive and well in this country on both sides.
It's time to stop making excuses, to the cling to our idols of ideology and political party, and time to start standing up for humanity. And we must hold our leaders accountable – we must demand that they condemn racism and xenophobia everywhere.
So what else can you do? We say a prayer for the country every week, and we say it so much that it is often time said by rote – without kavanah. Here is how we can put these prayers into action:
1. Embrace those who are scared and do not belittle the fear that they have. People of color, immigrants, Muslims, people with disabilities, and everyone else who feels threatened because of the rhetoric of the election. Like Sarah and Abraham welcomed guests into their home, welcome them into your home. They are more than guests, they are our fellow citizens. Let them become the center of your universe.
2. We must recommit to fighting bigotry and hatred wherever you find it – in your children's schools, when a latino child is told he's being deported, stand up for them; don't give up your fight for justice – get active, become an active citizen – get involved in what's going on here in our city, our county. Do more acts of loving-kindness because it is what God wants from us.
3. Pray for our country and pray for our president elect, Donald Trump – there's a famous story in the Midrash of a group of people were traveling in a boat. One of them took a drill and began to drill a hole beneath himself. His companions said to him: "Why are you doing this?" Replied the man: "What concern is it of yours? Am I not drilling under my own place?"Said they to him: "But you will flood the boat for us all!" (Midrash Rabbah, Vayikra 4:6). I think that midrash says it all – we are all in the same boat – let us pray for the success of our institutions, our leaders, and our people.
At one point in the last two years, one or both of the people who ran from a major party for president insulted, and now, maybe your rabbi did, and for that, I'm sorry – but let me tell you something that might even be more insulting – I truly am hopeful for the future. We've reached some really low points – and maybe there is no place else to go but up. As we look over our country's history, no one can deny that we have made progress – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was right when he famously said “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
But I'm hopeful for another reason as well. Avram began a journey thousands of years ago – a journey that still continues. Adam and Noah, they didn't make it – but Avram did. God promised that Avram his name would be great, that his offspring would be as numerous as the stars. The greatness of Avram, and the moral revolution that he started went from the Ancient Near East, to here, America. And so it is up to us, the Children of Abraham, to continue his journey here and into the future.