By Harriet P. Gross
Full disclosure, to begin with: The “star” of this story happens to be my rabbi. I tell you this going in, so you won’t think I’m into playing favorites. I think it would be unfair not to share with you his valuable insights during the time when we were so very wrapped up in presidential politics.
Effective speakers and writers often cast their work in threes. Trios are powerful for providing illustrations, making points and drawing conclusions. Rabbi Rafi Cohen of Congregation Beth Torah in Richardson used this “magic number” to define directions in a recent sermon titled “Right, Left, Center? Staying Spiritually Focused During This Election Season.”
Maybe you’ve taught a class, led a group of children or taken part yourself in a gathering where this game was played: Select three completely different objects and weave them into one story. There’s an art to bringing together elements that at first seem totally unrelated, and making from them one coherent, meaningful whole.
Here’s how Rabbi Cohen did it: He started by telling of “Mechina,” a film about two young Israeli cousins, Maital and Amitai, making decisions for their futures. They will soon go off in different directions, but they will still be on a single journey, according to the rabbi, because their goal is the same: peace for themselves and their country.
Second, this sermon was written for Shabbat Lech Lecha, when the Torah tells how Avram and Lot, uncle and nephew, left Egypt together, but found they had too many animals and herdsmen between them to occupy the same lands. So Avram tells Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, for we are kinsmen. Let us separate … If you go north, I will go south … ” And Lot agrees. From that point, they move on in different directions, but their goal is the same: they have made a difficult mutual decision based on the best interests of peace for all.
Now, Rabbi Cohen introduces the crucial third element into his tightly woven sermon: today’s America.
“Political candidates stand for different choices and will often times take opposite positions,” he says. But even so: “Right, left or center — it does not matter. In the midst of theological, political and denominational differences, we must see our candidates as being united by the goal to go in the best direction.”
Notice that the rabbi was neither endorsing not putting down any candidate. (Of course he wouldn’t. We’ve been reminded recently, through a Southwest Texas church that openly pitted “Muslim against Mormon” on a billboard, how close a religious institution can come to losing its cherished tax-free status when it crosses over into active politicizing.) But neither was his sermon a wishy-washy one. Heading toward its conclusion, he cited the fiery Ezekiel: “Attack to the right. Engage to the left.” This was Rabbi Cohen’s sharp reminder that the prophet wants us to remember: wherever we go, whatever the direction, we are still united — related, even, by virtue of our citizenship.
His conclusion was this: “During the day of November 6, we will make different choices for different reasons, hoping for different results. But that evening, while our nation turns its attention to the outcome of the presidential election, let’s remember that we choose together. We stand, like Avram and Lot, like Amitai and Maital, hoping to meet up in very much the same place on the journey toward peace.”
You are reading this two days after the presidential election; I am writing this more than a week before. Today, we all know the answer to a first-time-ever question being posed, as I wrote, by concerned people everywhere: Would Perfect Storm Sandy cause affected states like New York and New Jersey to do what the Constitution does not permit for our federal government — postpone their elections if the aftermath might make voting, and vote counting, impossible on the scheduled Election Day? So I must write in advance that, as we turn the pages of this paper together on Nov. 8, we may, or still may not, know who will occupy the White House for our country’s next four years.
But whatever has transpired before, we do know this now: Right, left or center, we are all united in the same hopes for our country’s future. We are like Maital and Amitai, like Lot and Avram, sharing the same dreams as we separate to travel in our different directions. May we meet again in the same place at the end of our separate journeys. And may that place be peace.