Parashat Lech Lecha 5777: U.S. Elections, loneliness and hope
A journey of 4000 years started with the Divine command to Abram: “Go for yourself out of your country, away from your kinsmen and away from your father’s house, and go to the land that I will show you”. Such a sacrifice, such a hard thing to do. These three expressions represent a raising difficulty in God’s request: To leave your country is hard, but not that terrible. To leave your kinsmen, the World you know, your surroundings, what is known, your comfort zones… to do that is much more difficult. But to leave your father’s house, to leave your family and dear ones behind, that’s painful and a real sacrifice. Abram sacrifices his past, his personal history, for an uncertain future. How could he be brave enough to do such a thing? God said to him: “Whoever blesses you I will bless, and whoever curses you I will curse”. According to some commentators this means: “Don’t let your heart fell that you don’t have a friend or a redeemer in this new land and that if somebody hates you and wants to hurt you nobody will care or nobody will stand with you. I will be with you, will care for you and stand with you”. God knows about the existential loneliness of Abram in his mission, about his feeling of disconnection from others. Therefore he promises that He will be Abram’s ally and friend. Indeed in the Muslim tradition Abram is called Khalilullah (خلیل الله), the Friend of God. Many times we feel like Abram when we stand for values and an ethical life, when it looks most other people doesn’t share them. If feels so lonely, sometimes it looks we are the only ones that care and we don’t have friends or allies in this fight. Then God says as he did to Abram: “I will be your friend, your ally, your redeemer”. When we stand up for ethical values and for good in the World we are doing Tikkun Olam and God is our ally. This Shabbat there is many people in the United States, and elsewhere, feeling that loneliness. They feel that what is so obvious to them, so self-evident, is not obvious to most people in their country anymore. Values like equality, respect for other races, religions and for women; peaceful resolution of conflicts and human rights. The President Elect, Donald Trump, is for them a symbol of everything that is wrong in their country and society, and nevertheless he won the elections. I read a message from a Muslim acquaintance of mine in the US asking how can he explain to his son that this man who hates them now will be President because most of their fellow Americans voted for him. I had a long chat with a female colleague of mine, one of the most positive, smiley, hopeful people I know; telling me that she is in despair because she doesn’t know what to tell her students of Cheder and Bar Mitzvah class about how a person that represents such negative values is now the President. Now I think that we must be fair. The truth is that half of America did not, in fact, just revealed themselves to be closet Nazis. Most of Trump’s voters voted for him despite the fact that he said and/or believes awful things, not because of it. For me those awful things were more than sufficient to wish he would have lost the election, but for other people these things are excusable in front of what they believed is the larger picture. In their case, it’s a belief that the system is fundamentally broken and that Hillary Clinton would have been more of the same. Trump rode a wave of support from people who’ve spent the last eight years watching terrifying nightly news reports about ISIS and mass shootings and riots. They look out their front door and see painkiller addicts and closed factories. They believe that nobody in Washington cares about them, mainly because that’s quite correct. Those people have been forgotten by the establishment and that’s the biggest mea culpa that Democrats and liberals, and not few Republicans, have to do after these elections. Many people are calling these elections the American Brexit and maybe there is truth in that sentence. Progress and economic development has to be shared and understood by everyone and not only those elites living in the big cities. Raya was afraid that I shouldn’t talk about politics from the Bimah and she is right. I would never tell you to vote Labour or Conservative, or judge you because of how you voted in the referendum. I am speaking about this subject not because is politics, but because there is much more involved. There are basic values that most of us agree with, like equality, human rights and pluralism; and there is also pain, a lot of pain and fear from people. From black people, from Muslim people, from gay people and yes, Jewish people as well. And when we are afraid or upset many of us feel like we are in the flood, destruction and fear everywhere, and as Noah we want to build an ark, close the door and isolate ourselves. But Noah was the Torah reading for last week, not this week. This week is Abraham and Sarah. And unlike Noah, Abraham and Sarah don’t build an ark. They build a tent, and they travel, and have faith, and work in their old age, and build what they want to see in the world, and it takes a very long time and they don’t really believe it will happen. But the same Someone, that God, whom they discovered in the desert insists it will. What told to my colleague friend in America is not less true for us here in the UK or for my friends and family in Israel. I told my friend to tell her students to be heroes, that if we feel that we are living in dark times then even the youngest and smallest of us can be a little hero that will stand up and continue believing and defending the good values, the Jewish values, that we know to be true and good, that’s being a light to the nations and today more than ever we have to be it. It is our job, each one of us, to stand up for the weak and persecuted, for minorities and those being bullied. To build bridges and not walls, to make more efforts to meet, and work and engage with people from different backgrounds, religions, race or nationality. To make more of an effort to show that we won’t accept as normal for women to be harassed, discriminated, or objectified. That we won’t accept anymore that LGBTQ people are sick or need some psychological or psychiatric treatment to cure them. Above all, we will refuse to hate, because that’s not the Jewish way, that’s shouldn’t be the human way. There might be difficult times in front of us, maybe not because of President Trump, but more because of the legitimacy that some hate groups feel his victory gives them, because of the green light that some undemocratic countries believe his presence in the White House gives them. We must be united, hold our light high and continue working for a better World. A better World for all of us. And as with Abraham, the God of Israel will stand by our side telling us “I am your friend, I am your ally”.