I attended an election night party on Tuesday. The wine flowed, and the fish tacos dripped with delicious sauce smothering sweet corn and salmon flakes. I don’t even know what was on the chick peas, but they were fantastic. On several flat screens all throughout the house, election returns came pouring in. The Blue Wave turned into the Blue Foam, and as the dust settled, the GOP retained the Senate while the Democrats had taken the House of Representatives, albeit by a much smaller margin than they had hoped. And I was left feeling like my country’s politics had no room for me anymore.
I am not talking about policy. Policy does not seem to matter anymore. The Right and the Left, the GOP and the Democratic Party, both put up many openly anti-Semitic candidates for a variety of offices all across the country. Many of them won. And what does it matter whether your anti-Semitism is of the leftist, anti-Israel, Jews-are-capitalist-neo-conservative-militant-colonizer variety, or the right white-nationalist-holocaust-denying-race-mixing-Christ-killing-termite variety. When it comes to their hatred of Jews, the extremists on the right and the left are not that different from one another. The political spectrum is a circle, not a line.
The Torah enjoins us many, many times from deviating from Hashem’s path to the Right or to the Left (Devarim 28:14; Yehoshua 1:7; Mishlei 4:27). The middle path is the one the Rambam encourages us to follow. He explains that any character trait taken to an extreme can be dangerous. The Zohar teaches that Avraham represents abundant Kindness – chesed – which flows down the right side in kabbalistic literature. Yitzchak represents Strength – gevurah – which runs down the left side in Kabbalah. Because they manifested as such extremes, they each had offspring that were imperfect. Only Yaakov Avinu, who embodies Pride and Praiseworthiness – tiferes – merited fatherhood of the twelve tribes, each one of whom inherited a share of the Holy Land. His ability to split the difference between the amazing qualities of his forefathers elevated him to the highest status of all.
King Shaul slaughtered all of the inhabitants of Nob because they helped King David. The same Shaul spared Agag and the Amalekite animals in his infinite mercy. The thing about a pendulum is that the farther you pull it one way, the farther it swings the other way. We compensate for one extreme with another. As one side goes to the right, the other goes farther to the left. But the Torah implores us to stay on the straight path.
One of Rebbe Nachman’s most famous teachings – oft misquoted – reads as follows:
ודע, שהאדם צריך לעבר על גשר צר מאד מאד, והכלל והעקר – שלא יתפחד כלל.
And know, that a person must traverse a very, very narrow bridge, and the main, fundamental thing, is to not allow oneself to be afraid.
(Likkutei Moharan Tinyana, 48). This statement is made in the broader context of a discourse on the need to remain as happy as possible. To not be discouraged by obstacles as they come. Said in another way, Rebbe Nachman warns us against being reactionary. A man on a narrow bridge must make no sudden movements. When a string is pulled taut, any interruption can snap it and release the pent up energy. This is the result of all extremes. Political extremes are no different. Rav Kook teaches that people yell at each other and speak rudely when they cannot find the words to speak to their counterpart (Maamer HaDor). As the two sides of the political spectrum move farther away from each other, they also move farther away from the center occupied by Yaakov Avinu. And their hatred of us grows and grows increasingly irrational. As we walk on the narrow bridge of Hashem’s way, the parties seek to knock us off into oblivion. And Rebbe Nachman teaches us to not give in to the fearmongering. On either side. Do not deviate to the Right or the Left.
The sages teach us to not become close to the government (Pirkei Avos 1:10). The Maharal explains that a person involved in government must be preoccupied in his own glory, and not the glory of Hashem. Government is adversarial. Hashem’s glory requires harmony. The Democratic and Republican parties have both embraced people and candidates who hate moderation, hate their opponents, and hate Jews. They do not live in a world where Creation is an intricate quilt of divine will, but rather a scorched earth that is theirs for the taking. Both have no place in the lives of the humble. Mankind must traverse a very, very narrow bridge. I will not allow myself to be afraid. I will not be pulled off the straight path by those consumed by power and hate, whether they ride on the backs of a mighty elephant or a lowly donkey.