The “F” Word and the Presidential Election

Wow, have I been using the “F” word lately.

And now, as I contemplate the before-and-after of our presidential election, I am compelled to say over and over again that very same “F” word:

FAITH.

This election, like all elections, required us to put our FAITH into an individual – a single, fallible human being, and to ask that person to make decisions on our behalf and on behalf of our entire country.

The popular vote reveals a deeply divided country, with half of voters not only in favor of their own candidate but often vehemently opposed to his/her opponent. The rhetoric between the candidates was divisive. Each political camp cast the other as the enemy. For so many, the American presidential election of 2016 seemed a battle between good and evil. Friendships were broken and families split. Healing, if it is going to happen, will require significant work and time.

This election, like all elections, also required us to put our FAITH into the ideals of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. We believe that through majority rule, but with the protections of the Bill of Rights, we will most effectively carry out our mission expressed in the Constitution’s Preamble to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” We look now to our leaders in Washington D.C. – those currently in power and those preparing to assume their offices – to protect and defend the Constitution, including and especially their obligation to ensure the rights of women, gays and lesbians, all religious groups, and every minority.

For those of us who are believers, this election week, like all elections, required us as well to place our FAITH in God. As we pray every Shabbat during the Torah service, in words taken from the Zohar (Parashat Vayekhel) and as translated by the Rabbinical Assembly’s Siddur Sim Shalom (1998): “I am the servant of the Holy One, whom I revere and whose Torah I revere at all times. Not on mortals do I rely, nor upon angels do I depend, but on the God of the universe, the God of truth … who abounds in deeds of goodness and truth.” Personally, I have FAITH that God has a plan and, though I do not fully understand that plan, I nevertheless believe. Of course, without fail, I typically believe “my” candidate winning ought to be part of God’s plan and I am surprised when the “other” candidate wins.

FAITH is the center of our Torah portion this week as well – and perhaps it is no coincidence that in this week in which we find a nexus of the contentious election, Veterans Day, and Parashat Lech Lecha we are called upon to focus on this idea of FAITH. In this week’s parashah, God tells Avram (later to be re-named Avraham/Abraham), “Go forth,” that he should leave behind everything he knew: his family of origin, his place of birth, his community in which he lived, and the beliefs with which he was raised. In return, God would lead Avram to an as-yet undisclosed location (later to be re-named the Land of Israel), and God would bless Avram and his descendants with incredible spiritual and material rewards. And so, as a man of FAITH, Avram takes a Kierkegaardian Leap of Faith. Avram put his FAITH – his trust – in God, and took that first step.

Of course, as we come to read in later Torah portions, Abraham placed his trust in the LORD but did not abdicate his ability to reason. Abraham sought to balance his FAITH with the realization that God does not desire automatons who simply wait for our Creator’s plan to unfold. Rather, as we learn from our patriarch Abraham and his wife, our matriarch Sarah, by giving us free will, God expects us to act in this world – to bring to life God’s Law and Lessons through the work of our hands and the words of our mouths.

Just prior to the election and then again immediately after, I posted my personal prayers to Facebook. An old friend promptly replied, “Dial-tone on the other end of the phone bud. Someone (i.e., God) is out to lunch or asleep at the switch.” However, I could not disagree more. Rather, I believe that, like Abraham, God is calling upon us to act. Whether you voted for President-Elect Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, or someone else, we are ALL now called upon to seek to understand God’s plan and to strive boldly to bring righteousness and justice to this world.

We are ALL called upon to bring this country together for ALL Americans, and to ensure that FAITH in people, that FAITH in American ideals, and that FAITH in God will continue even stronger than before.

Finally, in offering this and all other prayers, may we be reminded that we do not simply wait for God to act, we are obligated to do our part as well:

Dear God, our Heavenly Parent,

I ask for your blessing upon our President-Elect, Donald Trump. Grant him, please, wisdom, compassion, and vision to lead our country into continued freedom, lasting safety, and deepened prosperity. I ask also for renewed strength that we might as a country come together especially to ensure the rights of women, the gay and lesbian community, every religious group, and all minorities. God Who is the God of our ancestors, allow us to partner with You in the sacred work of Creation: to bring order to chaos; to provide comfort to the stricken; to uplift the fallen; to care for those in need; to keep Israel safe and free; and to seek peace wherever and whenever there is strife. Bring our country together now, dear God, in a unified pursuit of Liberty, justice and freedom for all. Amen.

Finally this week, let us also take the opportunity to give thanks to the men and women in uniform who have served and continue to serve our country. We place our FAITH in them every day to keep our values, our country, and our families safe.

This week and every week, may our faith in individuals, our faith in American values, our faith in our veterans and our faith in God, remain strong and unyielding.

Shabbat shalom um’vorach: May it be a peaceful and blessed Sabbath for us all.

About the Author
Aaron Starr is a rabbi at Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield, Michigan. A member of the Conservative Movement's Rabbinical Assembly and the Michigan Board of Rabbis, Rabbi Starr is a past president of the Rabbinical Assembly-Michigan Region and the Metropolitan Detroit's Board of Jewish Educators. Rabbi Starr is the author of the book, "Taste of Hebrew," and the article in Conservative Judaism, "Tradition vs. Modernity: The CJLS and Conservative Halakhah."
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