22 Sivan 5777 B’SD

I wasn’t the slightest bit shocked by the senate hearings this past week. The Comey testimony followed by the Sessions testimony was as partisan as partisan can be. Truth seemed less of an objective than the venomous diatribes and pontifications of both sides of the political spectrum. The goal was to discredit the honor, integrity, and dignity of political rivals. Moreover, it appeared that politicians were taking advantage of tax payer dollars to collect soundbites that can be used to enhance their personal agendas.

How could people behave with such callous disdain for elected officials? Have we sunk to a level where morality and ethics have disappeared? Is this the best our country has to offer? How sad to think that these politicians are the upper echelon of society who we trust with our life. My criticism is not partisan, as my condemnations crosses the political divide. From my perspective, the prevailing attitudes of our politicians are shameful and leave an indelible black mark on our society that chose such leaders.

Interestingly, this is not a new phenomenon. Over 3,000 years ago our ancestors displayed similar tendencies. When the Jews were told by God to enter the land of Israel, the people questioned God’s decision. They were uncomfortable blindly following God and ultimately decided to send spies to determine the suitability of their potential homeland. Moses chose twelve princes and leaders of each tribe to represent their constituents. Upon their return, many of the princes were less than optimistic about the prospects. They spoke disparagingly about the land of Israel, offering the opinion that the land of Israel was not the proper solution for the Jewish people. (For more information on what ultimately happened, read the portion of Shelach.)

Perhaps the 100 senators and 435 members of the House are playing a masterful game of brinkmanship. Their guile and deceit, albeit unconscionable to my naked eye, is only an act worthy of an Academy Award. On the day after the Sessions testimony, a dramatic shift in the political divide occurred. House Speaker Paul Ryan and the leader of the opposition, Nancy Pelosi, spoke from their heart. They both portrayed a deep desire to foster unity. They were addressing a shooting at a baseball practice. Five people including Steve Scalise were hospitalized. Scalise, the majority whip and third ranking member of House Republican leadership, was shot in the hip. A congressional staffer, Zach Barth, as well as Krystal Griner, and David Bailey, two members of the Capitol Police, were injured.

Why is it that despair brings people together more than joy? Why do families do their utmost to attend a funeral while often skipping a wedding or Bar Mitzvah? Why are tragedies a greater unifying force than happiness? Why can’t both sides of the political divide realize that besides God’s promise of giving the Israelites the most beautiful land of Israel, the best country on earth is the USA? Our democratic process is the envy of the world and we should be honored to follow our core values and principles. Of course, we have the right to disagree but why can’t it be done with respect and humility. If you happen to peruse this week’s Torah portion, all does not work out well for the hundreds of thousands of Jews who left Egypt. Ten of the spies are immediately put to death and the remainder of the Israelites who listened to their leaders all died before they had a chance to see the land of Israel. Although they realized the error of their ways, we don’t always get a second chance. You see, life is too precious to waste on partisan bickering. Who is right is subjective – that everyone has the right to be wrong is the beauty of being an American.

I am writing this article on Flag Day and the flag is a rallying point upon which all proud Americans pledge allegiance. Our flag blows in all directions as it portrays the vastly different positions of its citizens. We have one flag and we have one country. As they cliché goes ‘use it or lose it’. If we fail to value our democratic freedoms, I think climate change becomes a non-issue. Will we follow the path of the Israelites on their sojourn in the desert or will we finally accept the lyrics written by Woody Guthrie?

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest, to the Gulf stream waters
This land was made for you and me
And I went walking that ribbon of highway
And saw above me that endless skyway
I saw below me the golden valley
This land was made for you and me
I roamed and rambled and followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
And all around me, a voice was sounding
This land was made for you and me
There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me
A sign was painted said: Private Property
But on the back side it didn’t say nothing
This land was made for you and me
When the sun come shining, then I was strolling
In wheat fields waving and dust clouds rolling
The voice was chanting as the fog was lifting
This land was made for you and me
This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest, to the Gulf stream waters
This land was made for you and me

Yes, this land was made for you and me and my children and your children. Perhaps if I am able to see the land as belonging to others, then I can also appreciate that it belongs to me.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Jack Engel

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