This year’s U.S. primary campaign may go down in history as one of the most dramatic ever. Underneath all the mudslinging and ridicule, however, one can perceive stark ideological differences that separate one candidate from another, and all the more so, one party from the other. The candidates stand on opposite sides of the spectrum with platforms proposing wall building and immigration quotas to universal public university and socialized health care. As a Jew, reading through the headlines, I often ask myself which party platform is most in line with Judaism?

To start answering this question, let’s break down the underlying values that each party stands for.

All for One or One for All?

Oversimplifying things, the ideological divide between the Democrats and the Republicans is a battle about which takes precedence – the individual or the greater good. The Democratic Party stand for the collective good. In varying degrees, they believe that wealth and resources should be shared to ensure that everyone gets a piece of the pie. As liberals, they wish to break down the social and economic barriers that prevent the entire population from succeeding. Democrats believe in big government because the job of government is to regulate the economic and social development to help facilitate this process.

The Republicans, on the other hand, believe first and foremost in the individual. They believe that individuals should have the right to earn their own success. If individuals are successful (the 1%), it will have a “trickle down” effect on the whole who will eventually all benefit. Simply put, you should enjoy the fruits of your labors and no one can take that away from you. To that end, they believe in limiting the powers of government in order to empower individuals in determining their own destiny. As conservatives, they believe in preserving traditional values and limiting the expansion of radical social trends.

Give and Take

Now let’s see what Jewish mysticism has to say about these two world views. According kabbalah everything that happens in this world, is a manifestation of phenomena taking place on a spiritual level. The Republican and Democratic parties are simply reflections of spiritual realities.

Kabbalah teaches that there are two primary energies in life: chesed, kindness, and gevurah, strength. Similar to the Taoist ying yang, varying expressions of these two energies make up every relationship in life.

Kindness in Judaism is defined as the energy of contraction – to go beyond oneself and transcend borders. In action, this is synonymous with giving. On the other hand, Judaism defines true strength as the energy of constriction – the inner strength and self-control to create personal boundaries. In action, this means to receive. Chesed focuses on the other; gevurah focuses on the individual.

Elementary My Dear Watson

Kabbalah teaches that these spiritual energies correspond to two of the four elements in nature. Chesed-kindness manifests itself as life-giving water, whose nature is to expand.[1] Gevurah-strength, on the other hand, is expressed as the opposite: fire that consumes everything in its path.[2]

Red or Blue?

Let’s return to politics, now through the lens of kabbalah. The Democrats stand for the greater good. They want to break down economic and social barriers so that everyone is equal. The most extreme example is Bernie Sanders who wants to increase taxes to the rich to essentially force them to give to the poor. He believes in giving. This is most in line with the concept of chesed. Democrats are blue – like water.

Republicans on the other hand stand for the individual. They want to protect the rights of the individual by allowing everyone to reap the benefits of what they earn. They believe in preserving traditional values and maintaining the status quo. In the extreme sense, Donald Trump wants to build walls around our country and prevent outsiders from coming in. He believes in boundaries. This is most in line with the idea of gevurah. Republicans are red – like fire.

Just like the ying, possesses a small dot of yang and vise versa, it’s interesting to note that each energy possesses a small piece of the opposite. Therefore, what’s the moto of Bernie, who represents water? “Feel the Bern” – like fire. Trump’s moto, on the other hand, who stands for strength or contraction, is, “Let’s make America great again” – greatness is associated with expansion or chesed.[3]

The Middle Way

So which of these sides is more Jewish? The 12th century Spanish Jewish philosopher Maimonides writes that all character traits in the extreme are evil.[4] The way of the Torah, he writes, is the Middle Way. Although kindness is a good thing; too much kindness is extreme. Giving free college education sounds great – but for a nation already facing a trillion dollar debt, it might not be very prudent. On the other hand, having healthy boundaries is a good thing – but cutting yourself off from the world and discriminating against entire populations can be bigoted and harmful. The Torah values the efforts of the individual, but obligates us to work for the greater good.

The Color Purple

So what color is Judaism? The Torah refers to the Jewish people as an Am Segulah – a treasured nation.[5] The word segulah – treasure – is the same as the Hebrew word for the color purple – segol.[6] Purple is the perfect balance between red and blue. The Jewish people are endowed with the mission of living as individuals while working towards the collective good of everyone.

Purple is also the color of royalty. A true leader must possess a balance between these two characteristics of kindness and strength – caring about both the individual as well as the nation as a whole.

For Heaven’s Sake

It is amazing to note, that the Hebrew word for heaven – shamayim – is made up of two words: aish, fire, and mayim, water.[7] Heaven is the place where all opposites come together as one. Fire and water can coexist without extinguishing each other. It is a place of perfect harmony. The Torah is also compared to both fire and water because it possesses the qualities of both.

The Middle East

The idea that Judaism represents balance or the Middle Way, is also manifest geographically in the world. The eastern hemisphere is propelled by deep philosophical and spiritual beliefs. The spiritual systems of India, China, and Japan share a belief that everything is one – the world is just an illusion. The western hemisphere, on the other hand, upholds the idea that this world is all we have. Let’s eat, drink, and make merry for on the morrow we die. The land of Israel is found right in between the two – where East and West meet, at the crossroads between Asia, Europe (and Africa). Judaism teaches that although this world is an illusion and ultimately everything is One, we still have an obligation to live in the world of action.

Who Jew Voting For?

So who should Jews vote for? The answer is that when extreme, neither party will bring about the true cosmic transformation we dream of. Only when the change takes place from within, will the world reach its ultimate spiritual state of perfection. Let’s all vote for ourselves and take the steps to make changes within to achieve balance in our own individual lives – and then we can take that internal change and use it to affect the greater good in the world around us.

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[1] As expressed in Mizmor L’David, Psalm 29. The 7 Kol Hashem’s refer to the 7 sefiros or spiritual emanations of G-d, the first of which is chesed, expressed as kol Hashem al hamayim – the voice of G-d is on the water.

[2] We find these two paradigms in the Torah in the book of Genesis. Why was the generation of Noah destroyed by a flood? The Torah teaches us that Noah’s generation was guilty of a number of errors – most prominently the sin of sexual immorality and stealing. When discussing the prohibition of incest the Torah write a puzzling statement: “When a man takes his sister . . . and lies with her, chesed hu – it is a disgraceful act (literally, however, an act of kindness!) (Vayikra 20:17). How can we understand this abominable act to be an act of kindness? The Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic movement, explains that sexual immorality is indeed an act of chesed – too much chesed. Chesed is the movement beyond one’s personal boundaries. Too much chesed is a complete disregard for boundaries.

The Torah writes that in the generation of the flood there was a total lack of normal sexual boundaries. Men would regularly engage in sexual activities with each other, with their siblings, with other people’s wives, and even with animals. This even extended to the level of animals who would copulate with members of other species. Stealing stems from a similar lack of boundaries – what’s mine is yours, what’s yours is mine. The Torah teaches that everything that God does is mida keneged mida – or measure for measure. Like the Eastern concept of karma, whatever we put out into the universe is exactly what comes back to us. The response to this blatant lack of boundaries or too much chesed was an influx of kindness manifest as too much water overflowing its natural boundaries. So what was Noah’s spiritual task? For decades before the flood he was busy building an ark. In Hebrew the word for ark is teva – literally a box. His job was to build boundaries for a generation that lacked them. But during the actual flood what was Noah busy with all day, 24/7? He was busy doing kindness – feeding and caring for the animals. The message is clear: kindness is good – do a lot of it – but within proper boundaries.

Abraham’s generation was the exact opposite. Abraham’s adversaries were the people of Sodom and Gemara. The Talmud explains that in the town of Sodom, kindness was strictly forbidden.[2] Anyone caught giving food to the poor would be burned at the stake. Sodom represents an extreme form of gevurah – too much strength.[2] Abraham fought against this attitude by spending his life performing acts of kindness. His tent was opened on all four sides so that hungry travelers would feel comfortable joining him for food and rest. What was Sodom’s end? The town was destroyed by a hailstorm of fire and sulfur. Too much gevurah, too much fire.

[3] L’cha Hashem hagadula (Divrei Hayamim 29:11) corresponds with chesed. So too the term “haKel hagodol” in the first blessing of Shemona Esrai, which refers to Avraham, corresponds to the trait of chesed.

[4] Maimonides Maimonides Hilchos De’os 2:2-3; Shemoneh Perakim, ch. 5; Perush ha’Mishnayos, Avos 4:4. See also Rebeinu Yonah, Avos 2:1.

[5] Devarim 14:2

[6] Although the word segol is a modern Hebrew word, it is based on the Aramaic word siglah – for the flower violets – which are indeed purple. Most likely the reason violets are called siglah is because they possess some sort of medicinal property (see Rashi, Bereishis 30:14) – nonetheless everything is b’hashgacha protis – Divine providence.

[7] Rashi on Bereishis 1:1