By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
There is a similarity in the diaries of Jewish immigrants to America during the first part of the twentieth century. They contain parallel emotions; feelings of overwhelming gratitude as the overcrowded ship they were on approached the Statue of Liberty, her arm held high welcoming them to the shores of America.
Despite the challenges of acclimating, finding work, maintaining spiritual standards, that first generation confronted America and its inherent difficulties, yet never lost their inherent respect for the American system. They tasted democracy, a new fruit not available back in Europe, and they delighted in its sweetness. America, as expressed in the writings of so many gedolim, became the malchus shel chessed, a government founded on kindness.
The term has virtually become synonymous with the United States of America. When US Ambassador Richard Jones was taken to visit Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv two years ago, the revered posek hador immediately remarked that the United States is the malchus shel chessed. He asked the ambassador to convey his thanks to the American president.
I recently read a memoir of a rabbi in which he described the deep feelings of hakoras hatov that his grandparents, who lived with fresh memories of pogroms and beatings, felt towards this country. His reminiscence is just one of many thousands. He describes how each year, when they paid their taxes, they would add a few extra dollars “just to say thank you.”
Couple that gratitude with something else, a mandate, a sacred charge as a mamleches kohanim vegoy kadosh, a people expected to shine light onto the nations, and you see the duality of our role as American citizens – grateful but also responsible.
A rov recounted that he visited Rav Shimon Schwab during the 1992 election season. The candidates for the presidency were the incumbent, George H. W. Bush, and Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton. The visitor suggested that since the senior Bush had taken a very severe approach toward Israel by refusing to approve loan guarantees and Clinton seemed to be a loyal and unabashed friend of Israel, the Jewish community would support Clinton.
Rav Schwab’s response is timeless, and it is as instructive now as it was then.
“Our responsibility is not to take care of Eretz Yisroel, or any Jewish cause, since the Ribbono Shel Olam decides what route a ruler will take. As the posuk says, ‘Lev melachim vesarim beYad Hashem.’ He alone controls their thoughts and reactions, and as history has shown us again and again, rulers often surprise those closest to them with the decisions they make. Their hearts are in Hashem’s Hands.
“Our immediate responsibility as Torah Jews is to see to it that the world’s moral climate isn’t further weakened, that we are helping protect kedushah.”
On a practical level, explained Rav Schwab, it meant voting for the incumbent, Bush, since Clinton had a reputation for dubious morality. In time, the prescience of Rav Schwab’s words would be proven. Not only did President Clinton personally engage in immoral conduct, but he ushered an unprecedented trend of immorality into the American consciousness and daily headlines.
A vote, taught Rav Schwab, is an opportunity to cleanse the world and purify our society, and the calculation of who to vote for should be made with that mandate – mamleches kohanim vegoy kadosh – in mind.
As the inhabitants of this great country grow increasingly self-centered, voter turnout keeps dropping. People are too focused on their own little worlds to see beyond and to realize their responsibility to society at large.
We Yidden cannot be apathetic, content with standing on the sidelines and welcoming whichever candidate comes forward smiling brightest, slapping our backs with the most enthusiasm.
In a famous Purim maamar, Rav Yitzchok Hutner, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin, declared, “In neshamah, iz nit duh kein Switzerland!” Neutrality is not a Jewish middah. There are no gray areas that are neither tov nor ra. Every decision has a consequence, every idea represents something.
We stand at a crossroads now, and rather than viewing the imminent election as an inconvenience, we should see it as an opportunity.
We have the tools in our hands to make a difference, to improve the moral and economic climate of this country.
The media is twisting itself into knots to defend its one-time hero, our president, but it’s time to face up to the truth: It’s not working, plain and simple. There are no two ways about it. There is no way to explain it away. The country is fed up with him. His approval numbers in the latest non-biased Gallup poll are at 38%.
Republicans have only been in charge of one house of Congress for seven months out of the two and a half years of Obama’s presidency, yet they are being blamed for the economic malaise of the country.
The administration and its lackeys have been churning out lie after lie in a failing bid to prop up their disproven policies and theories. Consider Mr. Obama’s amateur attempt to show up the Republicans on the night of their presidential debate, delivering his own campaign speech from the well of Congress, a talk billed as a “Joint Session to Congress on Jobs.”
Obama will obviously not do anything to create jobs, because he does not believe in the ability of the private sector to drive the economic engine of this country. He believes in the expansion of government. He came in selling hope and change and promised to be a post-partisan president, yet he has governed from the extreme left since day one. He sets up straw men and knocks them down, but accomplishes nothing. His is basically a wounded presidency constantly seeking to press the reset button, but never hitting any winners. The crisis continues to grow and the hole we are in deepens and widens. There are no signs of improvement on the horizon.
He is almost an accidental president. Nobody really knows where he came from, what he believes in, what he accomplished prior to his election, and why he should be reelected. He is almost a reincarnation of Jimmy Carter. Unemployment is endemic, economic growth is nonexistent, and class warfare is not working. The tried-and-tested blame Bush approach has been fruitless; massive government spending hasn’t accomplished a thing, and running up the deficit has had no positive impact. None of the liberal truths is being borne out now that they are finally being put into practice.
And it’s worse than that. The same folks who brought you Obamacare and deficits and try to continuously raise your taxes to pay for their follies are the people who are in a bitter battle against religion and moral values. These same people seek to embarrass Israel at every opportunity. They promote a radical agenda at every turn, publicly and privately.
The president doesn’t believe in American superiority. He doesn’t believe that America is the beacon of freedom and justice for the world. He travels across the globe apologizing for America’s greatness. He seeks to remold this country in the image of failing European socialism, even as those countries try to escape from those mistakes and adopt American capitalism. He seeks an equation of casualty, comparing Palestinian freedom fighters to Israelis who just want to live in peace in the Biblical home of their forefathers and mothers. As the Palestinians press forward with their statehood bid, the fallout is sure to be catastrophic, pushing Israel further into a steadily shrinking diplomatic corner.
And what can we do about it?
For those who reside in New York’s 9th congressional district, there is a chance on September 13th to protest what Obama has done on a national scale and what the party of David Weprin has done on a local scale. There is an opportunity to proclaim that we want to maintain traditional values, we want jobs back, we want responsible tax policy, and we want less governmental intrusion. We want less power for the unions which have caused millions of jobs and industries to flee this country, once the manufacturing capital of the world. It is those very unions which strangle industry and contribute to government’s inefficiency, who are committed to working slavishly to turn out the vote on Election Day for the man they know will do their bidding.
We have to show that we are not apathetic, we are not pawns, and we are not drones. We have to demonstrate that we are not corrupt, we do have principles, and we are not all about pragmatism. Yes, we also have to demonstrate to the people from our community who seek to make money off of these wayward deviants that we have had enough of them and will not countenance them either.
We don’t need another two-faced politician addressing us at our dinners for our shuls, mosdos and yeshivos. We have had enough of those. We don’t need another guy coming around mouthing some nice words about Yiddishkeit and how he will always stand by Israel and then go run off and wave lavender flags at the parades of those who seek to destroy the Judeo-Christian principles of morality upon which this great nation has been built. We don’t need another politician who troops down our streets trolling for dollars and then goes to those who seek to destroy the moral fiber of our community with his hand out, telling them how, when elected, he will promote their agenda.
We don’t need another person to supposedly represent us, but continuously voting against the best interests of our community. No, we are not from the generation of Jews who incorrectly felt indebted to FDR. We have no allegiance to the party of Carter, Schumer, and Obama. We judge each man and woman based on their positions and votes, and if they are out of line, we do not support them. We are principled and strong, and we exercise our democratic right to speak up and say the truth. We don’t just cower in our corners pontificating and then staying home on Election Day when we can make our voices heard.
It seems that we have an obligation to select the candidate who will not be an automatic vote for the Pelosi agenda. He will not be an advocate for deviants. He will not seek to destroy this country. He will not be a rubber stamp for a socialist, leftist, anti-religious, anti-moral agenda. And by voting for Turner, you will be proclaiming loud and clear that you have had it with the lies, you have had it with the leftists, you don’t want marriage redefined, and you have had it with embarrassing Israel and attempting to force it into suicidal pacts. You will be able to hold your head high, no matter who wins, and say, “We are different, we stand for something, and we are not for sale.”
This election is about something larger than the people running to fill a seat which will likely be redistricted out of existence in 2012. It is about making a statement. It is not about polls and testing who will win. It is not about trying to line up with the projected winner in a bid to obtain future imagined benefits.
We are an am kadosh. We stand for something. And what we stand for is not corruption, dereliction of duty, winning at all costs, or the cynical alignment for temporary financial gain with those who lower the declining moral level of the country even further. There is a culture war being fought in this country. We have to decide which side we are on. Are we with the crowd endeavoring to accomplish an earthquake when it comes to the moral climate, or are we with those who believe in individual responsibility and the free man’s capacity for greatness and good?
“Halanu atah, im letzareinu?” [Yehoshua 5, 13]
We can’t afford to cozy-up in our personal “Switzerlands,” covering ourselves with the cloak of indifference. We are charged to make the world holy, as Rav Schwab said.
So let’s walk the path to the voting booth with gratitude, thankful to the medinah shel chessed that allows us to live in freedom and peace, but never forget that, concurrently, it is our achrayus to make the world a better, purer, more holy place. We must do that in all that we do in our lives every day, including when we decide which politicians to support.