What a tumultuous week it has been. Perhaps the votes will be counted by the time Shabbat begins. As I write these words today, I’m taking part in a national call with Jewish leaders exploring the results of the election. Vice-President Biden is on the verge of receiving the 270 electoral votes needed to become our next President. This being said, President Trump has made it clear that he and his team will contest the results, claiming that fraud has undermined our electoral process. The lawsuits have begun. The strong emotions that have defined this entire campaign will continue and, unfortunately, possibly get worse. Our nation is very fragile right now and this fragility is something I’d like to address as we prepare for Shabbat.
Whether it be from the original story about Joseph detailed in the Torah or modern-day interpretations of this story like Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, lots of us know that Joseph’s brothers hated him. Writing about this hatred, Rabbi Marc D. Angel, the Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Shearith Israel, the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue in New York City, explains that Joseph’s “brothers viewed life as a zero-sum game where there can only be one winner.” In their world, if Joseph wins, they lose. If Joseph gains power over them, he must be destroyed. If he is not, the brothers believe they “will end up losing the game. Hatred and jealousy eat away at the brothers,” writes Rabbi Angel. The brothers “think that any gain by Joseph will necessarily entail a loss for them.”
I have spoken with many of you this week. No matter who you voted for, you’re struggling with the results and ramifications of the election. You’ve had relationships shattered. Some of your brothers (or sisters, or parents, children or friends…) supported the other candidate. As a result, some of you find yourself with a heart full of hate.
The Torah commands us: “Do not hate your fellow in your heart!” (Leviticus 19:17) Pirkei Avot insists that we “be of the disciples of Aaron (Moses’ brother), loving peace and pursuing peace, loving your fellow creatures.” (Avot 1:12). The fact that our holy texts include these directions teaches us that the feelings we have in our hearts right now were feelings our ancestors wrestled with centuries ago. The great King Solomon taught us that “there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9)
There’s much to say about the prohibition against hating someone in your heart. While ideally, we should be guided by love for others, Judaism appreciates that, at times, we’ll have powerful negative feelings about other people. (Our tradition does not condemn hating truly evil people; “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil.” Proverbs 8:13) If we keep these feelings to ourselves, if we do not share these feeling with the people who have elicited them, if we greet those who trouble us with a smile on our face and hatred in our hearts, we’re failing ourselves and those who have upset us. When we allow hatred to fester in our heart, it grows into something dangerous. This is why Judaism teaches us to share what’s in our heart with those who have troubled us. We must do so constructively. We can’t rage. This means that we might need time to calm down and focus our thoughts. Eventually, however, we must share what’s in our hearts with the hope that our words will transform the heart of the person who has upset us. Yes, we have every right to be skeptical that this will happen, but our skepticism should not deny ourselves or anyone with whom we share life the opportunity to grow. If our honest, respectful rebuke does nothing to change someone who has upset us, by putting our emotions into words, we release a great deal of the negativity we’re carrying. In doing so, we make more room in our hearts for love. Perhaps, in time, some of this love will be directed at the person who has wronged us. If it’s not, the fact that love has replaced hate is, in and of itself, an important personal victory.
Life is not a zero-sum game where there can only be one winner. Neither is the democratic process. Judaism teaches us that while the majority, as slim as it might be, prevails, the minority is not to be silenced. Their voices must be heard and learned from. They remain an integral part of the process.
Returning to Joseph and his brothers, Rabbi Yonatan Aibshitz, who lived from 1690-1764 and served as the Chief Rabbi of Alton, Hamburg, taught:
If they were to have spoken with one another, they would have made peace. The main deterrent in every dispute is when there is no communication and one side refuses to listen to the other. If people knew how to communicate, they would see there is no basis for dispute.
If we can move forward, finding folks in both the majority and the minority who seek to enter into genuine dialogue and, together, sharing what’s in our hearts as we learn and grow together, we will bring much needed healing to our very fragile nation. As Americans, as Jews, we have a responsibility to bring about this healing. Together, may we come together to make it a reality.