Adam Winston
Inspired every day by self-taught saints

Make America Holy Again: The Besht on Elections

Hometown heroes. Cal Ripken in Baltimore and Brett Favre in Green Bay. The cul-de-sac where you first learned to ride a bike, and the diner where you grabbed milkshakes on summer nights as a kid. The local bands that were famous to you before anyone else knew who they were. Home is a special place, and we believe it has special values. Our values. The gemara teaches us as much. There are three types of grace, and one of them is that special place that Home holds in the hearts of those who live there (Sotah 47a). I like to think that’s why our political discourse tears us apart. We are not mean. We are not vindictive. We just care, because this is our home.

So we feel the need to march, to protest, to raise our voices on high in righteous indignation. At a country that does not remind us of the one in which we grew up, we cry out for the nostalgic home of that familiar cul-de-sac and a smile. We feel that in order to get that back, we have to fight. But our wisest masters teach a different message. Rebbe Nachman says that the word חן (chen) – the word for “grace” from the gemara above – represents finding the wisdom in everything (Likkutei Moharan, 1:1). By recognizing and internalizing the special place that everything has in Hashem’s Creation, everything will have grace in our eyes. We can come to love and appreciate something only when it has worth, when it becomes an integral part of the system in which we live. In this way, we return the ניצוצות הקדושה – the sparks of holiness – to their original source. By contextualizing the disparate parts of Hashem’s Creation we complete that Creation.

The Baal Shem Tov learns from the gemara above that we retain a special bond with our home town because we were put there as unique emissaries (Keser Shem Tov 15). That place represents the best opportunity we have to contribute what we can to the unification and completion of the divine story. We need look nowhere else. We need not march. If you do not live in Washington, you do not need to go there. You need only recognize the divine necessity in a thing to raise its spark. When the spark is gone – if the thing harbors no more good in it – it will disappear, having returned its essence to the source of holiness.

And so we come to the President of the United States. A person who arguably evokes more passionate emotions – positive or negative – than any figure in modern memory. For many in this country, and many Jews among them, he represents a distortion of the America we love, the one that finds grace in our eyes. But everything that we perceive in this world represents an opportunity to rectify Creation by recognizing its purpose. The Baal Shem Tov reflects that when we see a flaw in another, we are actually seeing the flaw in ourselves (Keser Shem Tov 116). If we want the land of our childhood, we have to perform the task we were put here to do; namely, to elevate the sparks – the American sparks – that only American Jews can uplift.

The top three complaints against President Trump, as the author perceives them, are as follows: (1) he sows seeds of hatred; (2) he distorts and oftentimes abandons the truth; and (3) he colludes with our enemies. According to the Baal Shem Tov, these faults are our faults as well. Do we seek the path of the righteous when dealing with those who disagree with us? The tzadikim do not see evil in other people (Meor Einayim, Parshas Chukas). Are we actually more understanding than the demagogue we seek to vilify? Or do we simply direct our hatred in different, “better” directions. The question is rhetorical.

When it comes to the truth, the midrash relates that Hashem threw Truth down from the heavens to earth (Bereishis Rabbah 5:5). This is the real origin of the phrase, “Truth is in the eye of the beholder.” Are we truly honest with our friends, our families, our communities? Ourselves? Do we not blatantly distort facts to make ourselves look better, excuse an absence, or beef up a resume? Again, the truth is in our hearts.

And finally, as a community, do we not embrace some who might not have our best interests at heart? Do we not, at times, abandon reason for the sake of a humanity we are so convinced is right and loving, even when that humanity does not love us back? Do we not abandon our brothers in their time of need because we feel more similar to our distant cousins? There is surely value in every human soul. But the Jewish people need every member to be united against our enemies; and yes, we have enemies.

This political atmosphere and the feeling that America is being lost provides an opportunity to fulfill the purpose of the Exile. The reason Hashem scattered us to the four corners of the world was because each of us has a mission in that place in which we landed. So go out and vote your conscience, for the party that represents your values and policy preferences. But the metaphysical battleground for the soul of the country and the world is not Florida, North Dakota, the House or the Senate; it is the right and left chambers of our hearts, where it has always been.

About the Author
Rabbi Adam Winston grew up in Richmond, VA, and received a B.A. in Arabic Literature from the Ohio State University. He lived in Israel for seven years, served in the IDF, received semicha from the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, and has been working and teaching as a rabbi for over five years. He also attends the University of Richmond School of Law, and lives in Richmond, VA, with his wife and children.
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