Ten days ago during the week marking 25 years since the passing of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, Chabad put on a happening on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn in front of Lubavitch world headquarters. During the presentation which was a mix of music and former speeches of the Rebbe, one of the excerpts from his talks hit me particularly hard, as what he said so many years ago is so incredibly applicable today as well.
The Rebbe was speaking about the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem and why it remains important even today to observe the 9th of the Hebrew month of Av (the day on which the Temple was destroyed) even though Jerusalem has been rebuilt.
What he posited is that if one goes to bed at night and has not yet rebuilt the Temple, then it is as if that person himself or herself has participated in the destruction itself. It is an incredible insight and a powerful lesson for us even today. If we see things going on around us that need to be corrected, and we do not do anything about them then we too are guilty of the having performed the acts about which we complain.
The analogy draws down on poetic license to be sure. But the message is clear. We human beings are not permitted to stand idly by and do nothing about those events in human history that are obviously antithetical to the values we hold as important, honorable and valuable.
So, for example, when political leaders choose to act in defiance of the law the population must act to make the leadership accountable to the law else the citizenry itself is enabling the violations and, using the analogy of the Rebbe, actually breaking the law.
Often the citizenry remains silent but sometimes we see acts of defiance that speak to this issue. The recent election of the mayor of Istanbul is a case in point. Earlier this year Ekrem Imamoglu was elected mayor of Istanbul against the wishes of the Turkish president, Recep Erdoğan. Miffed at the result Erdoğan demanded a recount and a new election in the hope that someone friendlier to him would be elected. There was no real basis for the new election and the citizenry saw through the unseemliness of the president’s attack and, to its credit, at the end of June elected Imamoglu once again as mayor. Had they done otherwise they, themselves, would have been guilty of the same shenanigans as those attempted by the Turkish president.
In another example, in the U.S. last week the Supreme Court denied the administration’s request to have a citizenship question placed on the 2020 census forms because they did not believe that the reasons for doing so as put forth by the Department of Commerce were valid and consistent. The court did say, in its opinion, that if the administration came back with valid reasons they might reconsider. The government attorneys who worked on the case then resigned because they were urged to reply but were not prepared to take this any further in light of the court’s decision. The administration then tried to assign new attorneys to the case but the court did not allow that.
At the end of the day, the administration issued an executive order directing all related agencies of the federal government to share whatever citizenship data they had with the White House so that the citizenship information could be gleaned in another manner. One does not have to be clairvoyant to understand the reason this issue is being pressed so hard by the administration. Clearly it is an effort to identify as many non-citizens as possible and then try to redraw congressional districts using only citizens in the population count clearly favoring one part over another. And the citizenry remains silent.
Democracy is about means. Dictatorship is about ends. The Rebbe in his words admonished the listeners that by their silence they run the risk of acquiescing to the methods of dictators where the end justifies the means and where anything a leader does is ok as long as the end is achieved. In his logic they share the guilt. The philosophy of the means justifying the ends has never worked for humanity in the past and it won’t work now either. The sooner everyone realizes that the better it will be.