In this country, Jewish communities have always recognized the importance of voting. We have always voted in large numbers. Reasons for this can be found in the Torah and the Talmud, which both advise us to be involved positively with the civil authorities. But the reasons can also be found in our history. Over the last 2,000 years, we have often found ourselves completely disenfranchised from government and government selection. The US welcomed us with open arms and asked us to be active in all aspects of our government.
How important is the right to vote? I read the following in an article written by my colleague and friend, Rabbi David Russo:
There is a fascinating story told about the 20th century Israeli rabbi, the Chazon Ish. On Election Day, the Chazon Ish ran into a fellow Jew. “Did you vote yet” inquired the Chazon Ish. The person responded, “No.” “Why not,” the Chazon Ish persisted. The person responded, “I don’t have the three Israeli pounds to pay the poll tax.” The Chazon Ish would not give up. “Do you own a pair of tefillin,” he continued. “Of course,” the person replied. “Well, go and sell your pair of tefillin and use the funds to pay the poll tax so that you can go and vote,” said the Chazon Ish.
The Chazon Ish later explained that wearing tefillin is a mitzvah, but voting in the election is also a mitzvah. He was not worried that this Jew would not put on tefillin. If need be, he would borrow a pair. But he was afraid that this person would not perform this other mitzvah – voting in the election.
Whatever the reason, we vote in larger numbers than many other communities in this country. I know from speaking with large numbers of you, that our JCC is well represented on the “I voted” side of the balance sheet. That said, if you have not voted, please do so.
It should come as no surprise to anyone reading this message that our country is in a continuing, and God-forbid increasing, state or turmoil. It, unfortunately, also seems to me that this turmoil is likely to continue, regardless of who is elected president.
While many will continue to find it hard to be civil to those who do not hold their political views, at the end of the day, it will be up to us to try to find ways to bring calm. It will be up to us to find a path to greater civility and unity. This will not be easy, however, as the Mishna says: “We are not required to finish the task, however, we are also not free to ignore it.”
It is for this reason that I think on this eve before Election Day, a prayer for our country is wholly appropriate.
Rabbi Michael S. Jay