Shaarei Shamayim

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It’s been almost a month since the presidential election and the dust hasn’t even begun to settle. Pundits and pollsters still cannot believe that a Donald Trump victory was even remotely possible and so they’re now trying to delegitimize the election justifying what they do by saying that Trump didn’t win the popular vote. In fact they’re filing for recounts in at least 3 states. Trump responds by claiming that he indeed did win the popular vote if we discount all non-citizens who illegally voted and that the recounts won’t amount to anything anyway.

How was it possible for Donald Trump to defy all the pundits and pollsters? After all, Hillary Clinton spent so much more money on advertising. The Clinton “get out the vote” organization was much stronger. Trump’s own party leaders were reluctant to support him. All major polls had Hillary winning, and yet, Trump pulled it off! Many are now saying that it was an act of genius! 

What was his genius? My friend and colleague Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg suggests—along with others—that it was because he was able to relate to and hear the voice of people who were totally different from him. Think about it! 

- Here is this New Yorker who wins the support of rural America. 

- Here is this real estate mogul who won the support of people who have difficulty paying their mortgages. 

- Here is this billionaire who won the votes of the poor.

- Here is this man, with all the negative things he has said about women, running against a woman—a woman on the verge of becoming the 1st woman president in history—and he wins over 40% of the female vote.

- Here is this graduate of Wharton who gained the overwhelming support of those without college degrees.

- Here is a man who understood that there is much more to America than the East Coast and the West Coast, and he understood that the people in between those coasts—the so-called “fly-over states”—think very differently than the media or Washington elite.

During the coverage of the Republican Convention someone—I don’t remember who—recommend a book to help understand the attraction of Donald Trump called Deer Hunting with Jesus by Joe Bageant. My 1st reaction was: “Why should I read this book…I don’t go deer hunting and I don’t believe in Jesus?” But, as the book points out, there are tens of millions of people in our country who do a lot of things that I don’t relate to or never even thought of!

For example, I believe in gun control—but only if it’s a national policy. In NY City, where I grew up, there was strict gun control but the bad guys would just travel 4 hours to Maryland and buy all the guns they wanted. Joe Bageant helps us understand the gun culture when he writes: In families like mine, men are born smelling of gun oil amidst a forest of firearms. The family home—a huge old clapboard farmhouse, was stuffed with guns, maybe 30 in all…For millions of families in my class the 1st question asked after the death of a father is: “Who gets Daddy’s gun?” I never even imagined!

Bageant writes about his hometown in Winchester, VA. The major industry in the city is the Rubbermaid factory. There are millions of people in America who are factory workers—and I realized that I don’t know a single one of them! The people working in the Rubbermaid factory have seen their wages depressed and their health insurance kept to a minimum while Rubbermaid threatens to move the factory to Mexico—just like Carrier A/C threatened. I didn’t know much about living with that kind of threat over one’s head and I didn’t know much about the culture of factory workers. Bageant comments: “If you spend your days at a soul-numbing, repetitious job, when are you supposed to find the time to grasp the implications of global warming?” 

During the presidential campaign the Democratic Party emphasized global warming, LGBT rights and late-term abortions while Donald Trump spoke about jobs. Someone sent me an op-ed column from last week’s New York Times titled, “I wish we were all Californians.” But we’re not! And the mores, values, outlook and behavior in Georgia, Wyoming, North Dakota and—as we’ve discovered even in Michigan and Pennsylvania and Florida—are not the same as in California. Donald Trump understood that and related to it. And that’s not an easy thing to do as we see from the story of Jacob and Esav in today’s Torah portion.  

Jacob and Esau were twins, but one became a student-scholar and the other a hunter-killer. It didn’t have to turn out this way. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch asks: How can it be that these 2 men, born to the same parents, even twins, growing up in the same environment and given the same education end up being so diabolically different in their being?

Hirsch makes the almost sacrilegious observation that the contrast between Jacob and Esav “may…have been caused by mistakes in their upbringing.” He criticizes parents Isaac and Rebecca for not realizing that “each child has different skills and capabilities and blames them for the ultimate failure that Esav’s physical skills are not recognized as a tool to serve Gd—rather the opposite.” Isaac and Rebecca thought if both boys were treated the same they would both absorb the same values—after all they were twins. They didn’t have the advice of the Book of Proverbs (22:6): Chanoch l’naar al pi darko (Educate a child in his own way).

This is a lesson for all generations. We all may be equal under the law but we’re not all alike! Even within our own families there will be different attitudes and different approaches and different outlooks on life. Today’s families are unlike any in any previous generation. There are so many “blended” families from one, 2 or even 3 divorces with a diversity unimagined only 25 years ago. We must come to understand that, to hear that, to accept people for where and who they are and work with that. Otherwise, a child might turn out to become an Esav—cruel, violent and totally rejecting his parents’ values.

Rabbi Jonathan Sachs points out: Rarely does the Torah pass an explicit, unequivocal verdict on people’s conduct. The commentators take Sarah to task for the way she treated Hagar…Jacob for stealing the birthright…Simon and Levi for their acts of murder…Moses, Aharon, Miriam, King David, Judah—they’re all punished for their sins. On the other hand, even seemingly bad people are found to have good qualities. Esav is a loving son who warmly embraces his brother after their separation. Pharaoh had a moral heroine for a daughter. The descendants of Korach sang psalms in the Temple.

Yes, none of us are perfect. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. We all can and must learn from each other. But not all of us are willing to learn and that’s got to change. Paul Krugman—Nobel Laureate in Economics—recently wrote: “The political damage [of this year’s election] will extend far into the future, too. The odds are that some terrible people will become Supreme Court Justices.” This is an attitude that helped elect Donald Trump…that people with different outlooks and different opinions are terrible people. They are not terrible…they just see things differently. All of us as Americans and as Jews must come to understand this and accept this.

My friends, it’s becoming almost cliché to say it, but our country is so politically divided. Even the Jewish community is so politically divided. But we must never become so divided that we fail to see the goodness in each other. We must learn to treat each other—no matter how much we may disagree—as the image of Gd we all are. Amen!

                                      Rabbi Mark Hillel Kunis


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