I didn’t sleep last night. I spent the entire night glued to my laptop, watching shocking scenes play out half a world away.
There is something uniquely unsettling about seeing your homeland on the news, while not being there. Something is disorienting about only seeing the tragedy while not having the everyday life experience to balance it. When you live there, you can somehow feel optimistic. The sun still comes up the next morning and you feel like you can get through it. Living here in Israel, you get on a train the next morning and hear conversations as elderly women shake their heads and ask “Did you see America last night? Oy, what a mess.”
The distance amplifies the horror. I’ve felt the feeling all too often over the past year. From the COVID-19 outbreak devastating NY to the racial tension over the summer in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder.
But honestly, this felt different. It took me back almost twenty years. Last night, I realized, that like 9/11, I was watching an attack on America play out before my eyes.
The sun was already rising here in Jerusalem when it became clear that order had been restored and Congress was settling in for a long night of debate. Only then was I able to grab a few short hours of sleep.
Although I had felt sick watching most of the news, there was one moment when I was proud to be an American. Seeing the men and women of the Senate return to their Chamber and voice their condemnation for the violence and “mob rule” and then resume their constitutional task with vigorous but respectful debate was inspiring. I was inspired by Senators from both sides, Republicans and Democrats, people I both agree with and strongly disagree with.
It was Senator Lindsey Graham’s speech that impacted me the most. While citing various examples of Trump’s legal cases that failed, he said:
“When Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that they did not violate the Constitution of the State of Wisconsin, I agree with the three, but I accept the four. If Al Gore could accept 5-4 that he was not president, I can accept Wisconsin.”
His words reminded me of Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 2. In this passage, there is a debate over how to accept witnesses who claimed to have seen the new moon (an important event that enabled the dating of the upcoming holidays). A story is told about how several witnesses were rejected because they gave testimony that the rabbis believed were physically impossible. However, Rabban Gamliel accepts their witness, overruling the other rabbis’ protests. This leads to a dramatic scene where Rabban Gamliel issues a shocking order to the young Rabbi Yehoshua (one of the dissenters) to violate what he considered to be Yom Kippur based on his alternate calculations that did not agree with Rabban Gamliel’s impossible ruling. After significant emotional distress, Rabbi Yehoshua acquiesces and accepts Rabban Gamliel’s ruling as the head of the Sanhedrin.
This passage teaches how the system of Halakha was dependent on the respect of those who participated in it. If someone continued to dissent, (even with good cause), it could divide and destroy the whole system.
We are dependent on certain systems. One of the Noahite laws that are incumbent on all mankind is the command to establish courts of justice. In America, our courts are part of our Constitutional system. If one disagrees with a verdict, there are ways to appeal. However, Senator Graham grasps the concept that this Mishna teaches, sometimes you have to lose in order to protect the system that you love.
The tragedy of what we saw yesterday was the result of the opposite. Concerns about the election have given the nation a choice. To trust and uphold our systems, courts, and Constitution and to seek reforms within the system in cases of potential wrongdoing, or “mob rule”, people acting by use of force outside of our established system to accomplish their will and make their voices heard.
The protesters have been called insurrectionists and domestic terrorists. However, I had good friends who were there, and I know the quality of their character and their love for the Constitution and America. Holding those values is what makes the actions that took place so bitterly ironic. Within our Constitutional system, there is a place for peaceful protest. However, we live under a representative form of government and the right to protest is to convince the government to represent our views and address our grievances. The concerns of the protesters were shared by members of Congress who were in the process of voicing those exact concerns in the manner that the Constitution sets forth when the mob occupied the Capitol. Ironically, their actions ensured that many of those who were sympathetic reversed their position in condemnation of the violation of our systems of government.
There are many risks and dangers under mob rule. It can turn good moral people into Zealots, threatening those who would normally be their closest allies. I have heard stories of members of Congress, who, although they shared the protesters’ views, found themselves joining Capitol Police to fight off attacks by the very people they were attempting to faithfully represent.
I’ve seen interviews from protesters and heard my friends voice their support for law enforcement and peaceful, respectful protest, yet we saw a mob, out of control and smashing down doors and windows and attacking police.
Mob rule is dangerous because it suspends rational thought and the systems of God-mandated justice in exchange for emotion-based actions. I believe the majority of this mob acted out of anger and frustration, not with a clear motive or plan which is why I think terms like terrorist and insurrectionist are misplaced.
These people were fellow Americans. Despite that, they will have to live with the fact that they succeeded in accomplishing something that no enemy of America has been able to do since 1814; taking control of the Capitol out of the hands of the lawfully elected lawmakers who “We the People” chose to represent us and preventing them from carrying out their Constitutional duties. For a few hours yesterday, it was mob rule, led by radical instigators garbed in the repacked antisemitic conspiracy theory of QANON and not the US Constitution that was the rule of law by which the “people’s house” was governed.
Systems of justice unite us and make us strong. Any society that undermines the system and resorts to mob rule (even if in response to a perceived injustice) will inevitably destroy itself. I hope and pray as America reflects on this dark day, we will stand shoulder to shoulder to preserve the longest-lasting example of democracy that our world has ever seen.