Election Day / Judgment Day

Four years ago, Reb Zalman sent a letter to Rabbis regarding his suggestions for Election Day preparations.  In it, he compares Election Day and Yom HaDin / the Day of Judgment and recommends that they be approached in similar ways, with Selichot / Prayers of humility and forgiveness, and fasting.  Here’s the core ideas from the original letter, updated to reflect Reb Zalman’s thoughts for the current climate, as I heard them in a talk he recently gave for OhalahGabbai Seth Fishman, BLOG Editor

“To my Fellow and Sister Rabbis:

Shalom.  This coming November 2008, we will undertake the mitzvah / obligation of voting. 

“Much depends on this election.  It is indeed a Yom Hadin / Judgment Day. 

“May God bless us with the wisdom to do what is right and to learn from what we have seen.

“May we, before entering the ballot chamber to vote, struggle with the questions of our time to the best of our abilities.  I want to do so with an open mind, and I urge you to do the same.

“A really important part of this process is to openly raise the kinds of questions with which we must wrestle if we are to learn anything from what has befallen us.

“Recall that when our people grieved for the destruction of the First and the Second Temples on Tisha B’av, we did not lash out at Rome [for the latter] or curse Babylon [for the former].  Instead, we looked inside and asked ourselves, “What is our share of responsibility for what happened?”  We came to understand that we had been warned by our prophets and our sages and that we had ignored their warnings to our peril. 

“And so, we came out of Tisha B’av a humbler and a wiser people.

“During election years, I feel we, as Rabbis, can help in a few ways.  The following suggestions are aimed at bringing God into the process and getting people to find the clarity to make the decisions that will make the most sense for each individual. 

“We need to plan to model this for ourselves, as Rabbis, first.  Then we can ask others to join us.  Here are some thoughts:

  • “Let us, and everyone, prepare for this Yom Hadin (i.e. Election Day), by prayer.
    • “Let us set aside the Saturday night before Election day to invite our communities to attend a second Selichot, (typically conducted on a Saturday before Rosh Hashanah). 
    • “Let us urge our Christian neighbors to do the same on their Sunday [before Election day]. 
    • “Let us urge our Moslem neighbors to do the same on their Friday. 
    • etc.
  • “Having had these services, let us afterwards all anounce a fast on Monday, erev Election Day, so that we may enter the ballot chamber to cast our vote in purity and honesty and after solemn reflection.
  • “Additionally, another area will be to raise honest, open questions for meditation and consideration. Asking them as questions without offering answers, will save us from the partiality of the members of the community to one or the other candidates. Try to find good questions no matter which side you’re on, e.g.
    • “What would be the way in which our mother the Earth, who is so sick, would want us to deal with the things going on?
    • “What would be the best way of supporting the tax system that will keep health, education and welfare going?
  • “Each of us has his/her own feelings, ideas and prejudices about the questions.  For each of us, some of one’s ideas and prejudices are likely correct, while others are, perhaps, not.  Some are good and some are not:  “But what would be the way in which God would want us to think about these things?

“These are not simple questions to answer.   Yet, I believe that we can help our communities in these ways without getting involved in partisan dynamics.”

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