Thursday, July 01, 2010

What, Me Worry?

The emails I receive daily commenting on the actions and attitudes of President Obama range from clever to cockamamie, but nearly all are disrespectful. These messages, conceived through a combustible combination of accessible technology, anonymity, and fear that often borders on paranoia, form a new and lethal poison in the domain of character assassination. Not since Jimmy Carter has the Jewish world—both Orthodox, and, increasingly, non-Orthodox—been so openly critical of a sitting U.S. President.

As an American, who believes in freedom of speech, I have no problem with these criticisms, ugly as they are. As a registered Republican, I find some of them humorous, and even find myself in agreement their efforts. But as a Jew I am deeply troubled.

Let’s be clear: I’m no fan of Barack Obama. No, I don’t believe government intervention in the financial markets will fix more than it will disrupt. Yes, I do believe that U.S. interests lie in a strong and stable Israel. No, I don’t think government-managed health care will lead to better and cheaper health care for me and my children. Yes, I am eagerly awaiting the November 2010 elections, not to mention those in 2012.


These sorts of taunts, particularly those launched by purported Orthodox Jews, are wrong because they display a lack of conviction as to Who is really running the world.

Never mind the minefield of chillul Hashem, which is rarely considered by those launching attacks. Never mind the potential backlash against the Jewish community for protesting against a popular president. Let’s leave those concerns alone for a moment, and focus on another challenge: recognizing our true beliefs.

From the simple perspective of intellectual honesty, is it fair to leave G-d out of the equation? If we call ourselves believers, what or Whom do we actually believe in? Have we, too, been swept up in Obamania to the extent that we believe that its magical powers supersede those of our own—Torah, tefillah and tzedakah?

Question: To what extent does our belief that G-d is running the show prevent us from fretting over the current political landscape? Young children sing every morning “Adon olam…veHu haya veHu hoveh veHu yihiyeh—Master of the universe…He was, He is, and He will be.” Always. God is here, with us, every day. What, me worry?

We all know that we are charged with hishtadlus, that we must make “practical” efforts in this world. G-d makes this demand of us. And, no doubt, if we see our efforts in that light, they are holy actions. But it is also possible to cross the line. If our hishtadlus has us behaving in a way that breaches polite discourse, that goes beyond loyal opposition, that creates chillul Hashem, then it is not hishtadlus.

It is incumbent upon us to vote. But once the vote is tallied and the “wrong” candidate has won, isn’t it equally incumbent upon us to breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that the Almighty is still ultimately in charge?

“But,” the argument goes, “haven’t we learned from Jewish history that we are under constant threat? Wouldn’t it be naïve not to worry?”

Simply, my answer is, no. Because “worry” is the wrong action plan. The correct action plan is “concern.” Concern means we understand the problem and will take an intellectual course to try and solve it. Worry, however, is an emotion, which may or may not lead us to proper behavior.

Let’s look at Megillas Esther and follow the actions of Mordechai, who was dealing with nothing less than the survival of the Jewish nation. While the rest of the Jewish world partied at Achashveirosh’s palace, Mordechai stayed home. While everyone else bowed down to Haman, Mordechai resisted. Then, when Haman received Achashveirosh’s permission to destroy the Jews, Mordechai ripped his clothing and dressed in sackcloth. He stood before the palace, waiting for any news from inside. Reading the Megillah to this point, one would surmise that Mordechai is a very worried person. Worried about the Jewish people, worried about Esther, worried about his children’s future.

The verses, however, tell a different story. At the key moment, when Esther shows some reluctance to move forward and approach Achashveirosh to plead for her people, Mordechai tells her, essentially, “No worries.” “Revach vehatzalah yaamod layehudim mimakom acher— Rescue and salvation will stand for the Jews from another place.” That’s a pretty confident statement from someone who, moments ago, had been pacing outside the king’s palace.

The critical difference is this: Mordechai was concerned, but he was never worried. Mordechai wasn’t being naïve. He understood that everyone had to do their hishtadlus. He even suggested that Esther’s entire climb to the top of the political ladder was for this very moment.

But he was never worried.

It is incumbent upon every believing Jew say, at some point, “Enough.” I have worried enough. I have voiced my opinion enough. I have blogged and emailed enough. I have voted enough.

It’s time to hear what G-d has to say.


Blogger Yoel.Ben-Avraham said...

Dear CJ,
I've thought long and hard over what you say, and I emphasize with some of your criticism. As the father of six children, four of whom serve in the IDF, and as the head of a family who live on the "wrong side" of the Green Line, these are no theoretical issues. With all the faith that I have in Rebon HaOlamim, I can't help but feel a far stronger sense of identification with the Jews of 1930's Europe who argued both sides of this same argument with such devastating results. Yes I believe that Netzach Yisrael Lo Yisker (Eternal One of Israel with not lie), but at the same time I ask what price we must pay for our own stubbornness and inability to recognize the miraculous opportunity He granted us and we in our ???? squandered and ignored.
So yes you are right, but if I have to play a role of either waiting for G-d or seeking activism opportunities to work with Him, I think there are at least 6 million reasons why I should choose the later.
B'Kavod Rav
Yoel Ben-Avraham
Shilo, benyamin, Israel

Sun Jul 04, 04:06:00 PM  
Anonymous lvnsm said...

CJ, you have a great point. We should first do what we need to do, and then trust in Hashem to take care of the rest.
Things might look scary now, but He is there behind the scenes.

Sun Jul 04, 04:29:00 PM  
Blogger CJ Srullowitz said...

Reb Yoel,

Kol hakavod to you and your children. It is impossible for me to understand the sacrifices people like yourself make, both physically and emotionally, for the sake of Klal Yisrael and Medinat Yisrael.

It is important to understand that, as a resident of the United States, my writing is aimed at Americans. Much of what I say and believe would not apply to Israel or Israelis.

Sun Jul 04, 05:05:00 PM  

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