Yakov Saacks

Transfer of power — a plea for peace

In just over a week, the United States of America will have a new President, Vice President and an entire new administration. From Attorney General to Secretary of Defense, from Secretary of Homeland Security to Secretary of Labor.

There have been 72 inaugurations, some private, but mostly public, and not all on the Capitol steps. For the most part the transfer of power from one President to another has been amicable, or at least an attempt at cordiality. Historically, there have been three outgoing Presidents who have refused to attend the inauguration and boycotted it, and it looks like we will see a fourth next week. The first refusal was by President John Adams who was distraught over his loss of the election as well as the death of his son Charles Adams to alcoholism. He left the President’s House in the early morning. The next Adams President, son of John Adams, also refused to go to the inauguration of his successor as well as Martin Van Buren for reasons unknown. Obviously, Nixon did not go to Ford’s for a different reason and not as a boycott.

The Presidential transfer of power, even with all the recent acrimony, pales in comparison to the Jewish transfer in ancient history. From the first anointed King of Israel, King Saul, until the last day under King Zedekiah, there was nothing but trouble and acrimony, which led to bloodshed, death, captivity and exile.

Let’s take the first King of the United Nation, King Saul. He did not even make it to four years before he was impeached and removed from office. He was deposed by Samuel the Prophet only after two years of rule. He was so crazed at the humility of it all, that he attempted to have the new King by the name of David assassinated before he could be inaugurated. Saul’s life ended by suicide in battle so that, this way, he avoided being captured alive by the enemy.

The next King was David. His life was insane. Aside from being hunted by his predecessor, his own kid Absalom wanted him killed so he could be king. Prior to Absalom’s revolt, he made sure to kill his brother Amnon who raped one of their sisters. In the end, Absalom met his demise when his hair got caught in a tree branch and was killed by David’s general.

The good news is after all the chaos and treachery, peace finally reigned under King Solomon, at least for a short hiatus, until half the country seceded, and became two kingdoms until it was no more.

There is a famous quote, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I firmly believe that we need to look at the history of older civilizations to learn what not to do. The quote that I coined is, “If we do not analyze the past and learn from it, then the future is murky.”

This is a crucial time for our nation’s future. It can go either way.
We can continue to be a fragmented, divided country weakened by all the hate and vitriol, or we can decide to reform and unite for the betterment of our country.

We can politicize everything and have neighbors not talking to each other or we can go back to neighborhood block parties once Covid has been beaten back.
We can fight with our family members and have two Thanksgiving dinners and Passover Seders or we can go back to the way it was where we fight each other at one table.
We can fight completely hidden behind tweets and other social media or we can use social media to help a starving family.

I know what I would choose. How about you?

The question that we all need to ask ourselves is what is our end game. What ultimately do we want to see four years from now? A United States or a divided state?

Will our society collapse? Will this great benevolent country turn into a banana republic? We need to be careful and vigilant that it does not.

Sir John Glubb wrote in The Fate of Empires in 1976:

“The life expectation of a great nation, it appears, commences with a violent, and usually unforeseen, outburst of energy, and ends in a lowering of moral standards, cynicism, pessimism and frivolity.”

He contrasted 13 different civilizations and found this astonishing fact. Most have only lasted 10 generations or about 250 years.

It is really up to the masses of the United States populace. We need to demand from our politicians, beginning with the three branches of the Federal Government, that they govern with civility, respect and with grace.

If they cannot do this, then maybe it is time for an extreme “home” makeover.

About the Author
Rabbi Yakov Saacks is the founder and director of The Chai Center, Dix Hills, NY. The Chai Center has been nicknamed by some as New York's most Unorthodox Orthodox Center.