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Parshas Lech L'Cha - Election Day 2020          11 Cheshvan 5781

10/29/2020 01:42:36 PM

Oct29

 ”Cardinal rule” is a phrase derived from the Latin adjective cardinalis, meaning ‘serving as a hinge’ or, the source from which everything rests or results; it refers to something of core importance.  There are cardinal rules which apply to many areas of life, and the Rabbinate is no exception. I would not say we were given a set of cardinal rules in the Smicha/ordination program, but for the most part these rules are learned on the job. There are a few cardinal rules in the Rabbinate which also apply  to lay leaders and other clergy.

 One of the major rules is to not publicly side with a political party or to publicly endorse something political from the pulpit. This notion originates from a letter written in 1801 by Thomas Jefferson shortly after the ratification of the Constitution and the First Amendment.  Jefferson had just won the presidential election of 1800.  Replying to a letter concerning conflict of church and state, Jefferson wrote, “…religion is a matter which rests solely between man and his Creator…” Jefferson then quoted the First Amendment to the Constitution reassuring that all religious rights were protected by “separation of church and state”. This foundational understanding of the Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment has been used extensively to support freedom of religion throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.

We are told that one should avoid discussing two things at the dinner table: religion and politics.  Religion and politics can be polarizing, precisely because they deal with important matters that are deeply personal and close to our passions and beliefs. But these discussions do not have to be polarizing or combative. Intolerance of another person’s faith is a personal choice, not a legal requirement. We are also told that we “should not mix religion and politics.” Again, this saying has a powerful truth: that when religion is used for political purposes, it empties religion of its eternal meaning and becomes just one more cynical method of acquiring power. But there is also a disclaimer hidden in that phrase: that sometimes when people say “Don’t mix religion and politics,” they actually mean “Don’t bring your faith into the public square where I can see it.” In other words, hide your faith outside of your place of worship because we have a “separation of church and state.” Separation of church and state is too important a concept to be misused — especially not as a tool for silencing opposing views. Therefore, I do not believe the concept of separation should silence people of religion and faith-based leaders from discussing politics in an open forum from their own pulpits.  

This coming week’s election results will be the most significant piece of history in our country for at least the past seventy-five years. Most of you are waiting to see who I will be voting for, while others will tell you they already know my candidate choices. Well, for those who think they know who I have decided to vote for, I will continue to allow their imaginations to confirm their decision. America is split down the aisle on the fine points of every issue. I would be surprised to see any issue voted on with an overwhelming majority on any case. Which side of the aisle should observant Jews find themselves?

In this week’s parshas Lech Lecha we are more formally introduced to Avraham Avinu. We read about his birth, marriage and early travels with his father Terach in last week's parshas Noach. After his father died, Avraham continues carving his own path after being commanded Lech Lecha – Go! - to the land of Canaan. Avraham is known as HaIvri, the Hebrew, a description found in Bereishis 14:13 "ויבא הפליט ויגד לאברם העברי"  “The refugee who escaped came and brought the news to Avram the Hebrew”. The Midrash Rabbah Parashat Lech Lecha, Parasha 41 on the very words “Veyaged L’Avraham HaIvri” explains Avraham was called "Ivri" because he stood alone on one side of the river, facing the whole world on the other side. The Talmud, when discussing Avraham Ha Ivri (Avraham the Hebrew) informs us that he was referred to as HaIvri which means the one from the other side for three reasons: 1. He came from the other side the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, 2. He crossed over from the “other side” of humanity. Beyond Avraham Avinu’s absolute Bitachon (assurance) in Hashem, Avraham was distinct among his fellow men through consistently displaying the quality of Chessed, which became the signature mark of Avraham’s personality. The third reason is given by the Pesikta Rabbasi (Pesikta 33): when Hashem saw that the entire world worshipped idolatry, and Avraham separated himself from them by not doing so, He called Avraham an Ivri. That appellation referred to the fact that Avraham took the opposite “side” regarding this pivotal issue, then that of the rest of the world. Another Midrash in Shemot Rabbah 3:8 explains that the Jews are called “Hebrews” (Ivriim), because they were destined “to cross over the Red Sea” she’avru ha’yam. Two things make Avraham special: First, he discovered God by himself, and second the Rambam in Hilchos Avoda Zorah 1:1-3 writes that Avraham understood that it was not enough to believe as an individual, that there must be a whole nation that believes. Avraham’s strength in standing alone against the whole world, along with his project of establishing a nation which would worship Hashem, helped him succeed where others had failed.

In our United States of America, the words “In God We Trust” is printed on every coin and bill of currency in our monetary system. This great country was founded on religious principles that invoked God into the very fabric of society.  The Torah directs us to vote in favor of the principles that are found in the Torah. That does not mean that we should vote for certain types of legislation or rally for a certain law. Rather it is a platform of decency and of law and order that requires our vote. We need to be on the ‘other side’:  just as Avraham Avinu was the Ivri, so too we his descendants need to be on the other side of which is the same side as the Torah. The Torah stands for social justice, equality, human life, proper treatment of animals, helping the less fortunate and or rights of every human being defined in their categories. The Torah stands for law and order, truth, integrity, and many other important life-leading ideas and much more. Whichever candidate, party, group that stands for the values that the Torah upholds will receive my vote this Tuesday on November 3rd.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Tue, October 19 2021 13 Cheshvan 5782