More results...

Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Post Type Selectors

More results...

Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Post Type Selectors

Reader Post: Torah And Trump

The Jewish people in North America today find themselves deeply polarized, as a new American President has begun a turbulent first week of office.  A majority of American Jewry opposed President Trump in the election, and now protests his initiatives.  Yet a minority just as strongly supports the new President and finds inspiration in his decisive moves.  The tension and potential for divisiveness among the Jewish people is very high.  Our practice as Jews is to find inspiration and insight from Torah to guide us in such challenging times.

In last week’s Torah portion Vaera and this week’s, Bo, G-d strikes Egypt with Ten Plagues as Pharaoh repeatedly refuses to grant Moses’ and Aaron’s request, and accordingly G-d’s, to let the Israelites go free.  The Ten Plagues correspond with the ten utterances through which G-d created the world, and signify that Pharaoh’s supposed power as Egyptian deity is completely overwhelmed by the transcendent power of the Hebrew G-d.

The Torah indicates that G-d “hardens Pharaoh’s heart”, and the ruler consequently refuses to grant the people’s freedom.  This is problematic.  It might appear that G-d is punishing the Egyptians needlessly or even gratuitously, by restricting Pharaoh’s power of choice.  Does G-d in fact deny Pharaoh the freedom of will to accede?  Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, in his book Jewish Literacy, says that the opposite is in fact true.  Had G-d let Pharaoh’s heart be weak, the ruler might have simply released the Israelites out of terror or fear.  Instead, Pharaoh was granted the strength to use his own moral and intellectual judgment without being compelled by fear.  Pharaoh’s arrogance and cruelty prevent him from granting clemency to the Hebrew slaves until tragedy befalls the Egyptian people.

Moses and Aaron demonstrate that one should not accept compromise for the sake of itself.  As the Plagues proceed, Pharaoh dithers; the ruler seemingly begins to accede to the Israelites’ request for freedom.  Yet Pharaoh offers to meet them only partway, trying to limit how far the Hebrews may go before returning, or to restrict those leaving to just a portion of the nation.  The temptation may have been strong for the Israelite leaders to accept compromise.  Yet Moses and Aaron hold fast to their commitment to free the entire Jewish people, without restrictions or compromise.

The polarization taking place today seems to require Jews to give away something.  Jews who wish to fight for environmentalism and liberty of immigrants, may consider it necessary to let go of strong American support for Israel, and align themselves with people who disfavor the Jewish homeland.  By contrast, those who insist upon unwavering support for Israel and Jewish causes, may feel beholden to condone restrictions upon international trade and scientific freedoms.

The Torah signals not to accept such compromised stances.  We should not be compelled to compromise that which we hold dear.  We have the right and the responsibility to hold all political sides to account.  Just as we pray for the well-being of the governments of the countries we reside in, we are enjoined to support the institutions and practices of democracy – whether in support of or in protest of government.  Just as we support strong Talmudic debate on matters of Jewish belief, so can we practice respectful, powerful debate on the matters that concern us and our fellow citizens most.

Perhaps most significantly, we learn from Torah to take a long view of what is happening today.  As the Jewish people prepare for their release from Egypt, Moses addresses the people in a remarkable manner.  He prepares them for freedom by reminding them to pass their learning on to the generations that succeed them: “And you shall tell your child on that day” (Ex. 13:8) about G-d’s liberation of the people from Egypt.  Three times in his speech, he reminds the people to transmit to future generations their experience.

Liberty and democracy are not to be taken for granted.  Our responsibility as citizens, and even more so as Jews, is to remain deeply aware of and connected to the events that occur around us.  In a time of great tension, we need not harden our own hearts.  We are challenged to remain open-hearted to what is occurring in the world around us, and to one another.  Each side has deep concerns that they wish the other to acknowledge.  We need to hear what one another has to say.  In our times of test, we remain more than ever interconnected to one another as a Jewish people.

Scroll to Top