I'd like to share a midrash, a story about
a Torah story.
After the first day of creation, the
angels clustered around God and asked "Is it
finished? Is it finished?"
There was a second and third and fourth
and fifth day of creation. The earth and the
heavens, the light and the dark, the plants
and the growing things and each of the
animals were created.
After each day, the angels continued to
ask, "Is it finished? Is it finished?"
On the sixth day, God created human beings.
"Is it finished? Is it finished?"
"Ask my partners, " God said.
The idea that humans are partners with God
in the work of creation is a powerful
theological underpinning to the outpouring of
creativity in our lives: some of us
physically create new lives (parents often
marvel to me, looking at their child, "It's
such a miracle that we created this other
person"), some of us create human beings by
raising up children or students, some
of us create community here in this shul and
in so many other contexts, some of us create
jobs, homes, funding, healing, knowledge,
enjoyment, art, friendship. The other side of
this partnership is that God partners with
us: that God is with us as we work, learn,
love and live our lives.
This particular season in this country,
our holy work of God-partnering involves
engaging with a major election. We are
approaching the time for a huge choice about
the future of this country. It is our own
secular Yom HaDin. Yom Kippur is called Yom
HaDin, Day of Judgement. This year in this
nation many of us will be called to stand on
our conscience alone in the voting booth but
in good company with millions of other Americans.
What does it mean to vote as a Jew? What
does Judaism have to do with citizenship? Can
Judaism inform your voting choices?
Historically, Jewish voting participation
in this country has been among the highest of
all ethnic groups. Jews make up only 2% of
the American population but account for more
than 2% of voters. There is an entire
literature on Jewish political thought and
behavior that seeks to understand Jewish
voting. One idea, discussed by Steven
Windmueller, about why Jews participate at
such a high rate, is that Jews over the
centuries have been the victims of political
systems and therefore have learned to
influence political and social ideas.
Post World War II, two issues have been
considered core Jewish issues: support for
Israel and separation of church and state.
These days there is less agreement within the
Jewish world around these issues. There is
diversity of opinion about how best to
support Israel - for instance, focusing on
short term security or focusing on justice
and peace that could lead to long-term
security? Less and less is there a Jewish
party line about the one and only right
American policy toward Israel, even among
strong supporters of Israel.
There is also less agreement about
separation of church and state. The Orthodox
Jewish world has particularly shifted toward
supporting school vouchers for day school.
Jewish voters have overwhelmingly
supported platforms that protect the most
needy and marginal members of society. This
pattern has held true even as the collective
level of Jewish economic privilege has gone
up and up. Typically the more wealthy voters
are, the less they vote to share that wealth
with those in need. The Jewish pattern has
been notably different, especially on the
Some analysts say that this is because of
our biblical prophetic roots where we
repeatedly learn to take care of the orphan
and the widow and to leave the corners of the
field to feed those in need; others say it
could be because our own recent ancestors
were immigrant workers and in voting we
remember from whence we came.
Why people vote the way they vote, is
incredibly complex and hard to untangle. But
let's move deeper into questioning what
Judaism has to offer as you prepare to vote.
Let's look at some possible motivations for
deciding how to vote.
Preference, which can sometimes be the
same as your interests
Identity politics comes from the natural
human tendency to bond with people who look
and act like you. I'm sure many of us have
walked into a room and counted how many Jews
are there. Or looked at an office list and
noted the Jewish names. At a highschool
awards ceremony, the only two Jewish kids in
the class won just about every award.
Afterwards, the Dad of one of those students
turned to the parent of the other and said,
"The Jews did very well today."
It's human instinct to connect with your own.
On an emotional level there's nothing wrong
with that. In fact those emotional ties
become building blocks for society. But as a
motivation for voting,
identity politics is problematic.
Identity politics says, "I'm black, I'll vote
for a black person." "I'm a woman, I'll vote
for a woman," "I'm Jewish, I'll vote for a
Jew." Identity politics divides human beings
into "us" and "them." Us is like me, and them
is not like me. Us deserves good things and
Like many of you, I personally feel insulted
when a candidate assumes I will vote a
certain way because of my skin color or
gender or religion.
Examples of identity politics, include the
hockey Mom image playing out on both sides of
this election. Really whether or not you are
a hockey Mama says nothing at all about your
view on the war in Iraq, the bailout of Wall
St. or universal healthcare. Similarly, just
because you know I am Jewish, you don't have
any information about whether I prefer to
have U.S. foreign aid devoted to the Israeli
military for self-defense or rather to
economic development that would bring Arabs
and Jews into co-operative projects.
Identity politics is the basis for other
inappropriate political comments: We have
heard "those thinkers in Washington", we've
heard Ivy League bashing we've heard about
people who cling to their religion in small
towns. All of these are stereotypes that
should not fuel decisions about how to vote.
Besides identity, a second motivation for
voting is preference. My preference is often,
but not always, based on self-interest.
Preference politics allow me to express what
I want and it's an important basis for
democracy. Preference politics sometimes lead
to interesting coalitions. Very diverse
groups can share the same interest or
preference. For instance, right wing
evangelicals and Jews banding together to
A third possible motivation for voting is
values. What Jewish values might inform
Jewish votes? Daniel Elazar identifies two
core Jewish values that form the basis for
* We are all created equal by God in God's
image. This is not to say that we are equal
in intelligence or in mental health or in
talent but we are all equally worthy and
equally deserve to fulfill our potential.
* Love your neighbor as yourself - - -
v'ahvatah re-eycha camocha. Our
religion inspires us to take into account
people beyond our own small kinship circle.
The very concept of "beyond" has developed
through the generations in Judaism to include
more and more people.
It's not easy to move from a broad value
to a policy position yet the focus of our
attention is more morally inclusive when we
do so. Wrestling with translating values into
politics definitely lifts us above identity
and preference politics. Values based
decision-making keeps asking questions such
as "What is best for the common good? How can
we ensure that everyone has the basic
necessities for dignified human life? If I
were looking at this situation through God's
eyes, how would I vote?"
Plenty of pundits, pollsters and
politicians are talking with you at this time
about the current events of this unfolding
election. On this Holy Day I want to hone in
on the spirituality of the election. The High
Holy Days are about inner work. What is the
internal cheshbon ha-nefesh,
accounting of the soul,that needs to happen
in relation to this election?
One spiritual task is for each of us to
seek the root motivation of our voting
decisions and to vote as a citizen not as a
partisan, to think well about the whole,
including the ones who are less fortunate.
The spiritual challenge is to rise beyond
identity and personal preference and to
aspire to the higher ideals of our values.
Another spiritual task is to help heal the
great political divides in this country,
especially between Red and Blue, by treating
all people, no matter what their opinions and
beliefs, with human respect.
Rural America, middle America, small-town
America, working class America are enraged by
the condescension, judgment, smugness and
arrogance of big city intellectuals.
When we look inside do we have some work
to do to clean up that elitism? People don't
have to agree with each other on the issues
but we are wounding each other's souls to be
so contemptuous of different life styles,
education levels, and concerns. It's so easy
to dismiss people with whom we disagree as
stupid and uncaring. I mind when other people
dehumanize me but I have to ask am I doing
the same to them?
You might ask, "But what if those people
aren't asking themselves the same questions?
What if they don't care about my
concerns?" That doesn't matter. You can only
do your own inner work. You can't develop
someone else's morality, only your own. It's
the same as in any relationship: you can't
write the script for the other person, the
only self you can grow is your own. These
Holy Days are about each one of us clearing
out whatever keeps us from being our best selves.
The Book of Life is open, ready for us to
inscribe our names into it. As partners with
God we are called to use our best judgment in
choosing life: life for ourselves, our loved
ones, life for our neighbors and for children
in Africa, life for the planet.
May these Holy Days give each of us the
time for re-directing our focus, like the
pointer on a compass, towards the values that
May you be inscribed in this Book of Life
for a New Year of hope, of sharing and of
growing into the best of our humanity. Shana