If we learned anything at all in the recent presidential election, it’s this: we are still a divided people.
Note my use of “still.” Many are decrying the fact that “this is the most divided we’ve ever been” or at least, “this is the most divided we’ve been in a long time.”
But that’s not so. It’s not just the Civil War. Examine any historic issue or legislation. You’ll find deep fissures on almost everything throughout our history.
But the vitriol and disinformation is more open than ever and spreads with unparalleled speed and force. Our news is often unfiltered, not prioritized, without context, and often just plain force. Poison just gets magnified and repeated. And repetition of lies creates a false perception of truth.
It even seems it’s okay to publicly espouse bigotry, xenophobia and misogyny. This isn’t new, but has lately taken on a new ferocity. It hurts seeing a world seething with hate and anger. I don’t understand any of it.
In both Leviticus and Deuteronomy, God tells us that following Him will lead to strength and courage. That’s a blessing. But there are curses associated with distancing ourselves from God. Chief among them is fear, even panic.
Yet the news people tell us – again and again – that people are afraid, that people are angry. Of what? We never get that answer. We just accept the fact that people are angry – as if that’s normal. A question: are people really so fearful, so mad? Or is this ginned up by hearing it repetitively?
Why the anger? Our sages say that anger causes wisdom to depart from even the wisest. If people cannot manage their anger, they will make bad and impulsive decisions. Yet that’s now considered normal. It’s not normal! Our leaders should try to calm us. If they can’t do that, we must find those qualities among ourselves. It’s not a choice if we are to have a meaningful world.
America is a great country. We have to work hard to keep America great.
The American to-do list
First, we must re-examine our attitudes toward voting. People cannot feel entitled to sit it out. Nor should they cast pretend votes for candidates who have no chance of being elected. All Americans have a duty to vote and a duty to educate ourselves about the issues. And further, to examine the issues through a moral prism.
If we care at all, we must be involved in the democratic process. As I’ve watched the massive demonstrations following the election, I want to ask every person out there: did you vote? Did you work on behalf of your candidate? Did you do anything at all to get the result you wanted?
We must work to create the world we want. Torah gives us a clear blueprint: we must help the needy, heal the sick, treat others with kindness. The Torah doesn’t say: if we think the needy need help, we’ll give it. It’s clear. We are supposed to do these things.
Among the worst sins in Judaism: shaming others. Embarrassing them. Yet bullying is common and almost respectable. We must step up when we see it. We are a moral people. Therefore, we cannot accept these wrongs as right.
This election exposed some deep fissures in our society. It’s laid bare the hate, the fear of others – especially foreigners – that’s rampant. We have told ourselves that truth is what we think and feel – not what is true.
This is the time for all of us to roll up our sleeves and actively work to create a just society. No one gets to sit back.
And this may be the most important: we must reach out to each other in respect. We must listen to each other, try to understand each other.
As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said: few are guilty but all are responsible.
That means, we must all get to work.
Rabbi Shaina Bacharach is the spiritual leader for Congregation Cnesses Israel in Green Bay.