Uniting a Divided Country--Ruminations on Ending Sinat Chinam on Election Day

This past Shabbat, Parshat Noah, I talked with Smith students about the causes of the flood.
In the Jewish understanding, cataclysmic destructions are proceeded by unraveling of society.
Whether it is the violence of the generation of the Flood or the hatred between Jews that led to the Destruction of the Temple.  In the Babylonian Talmud (Gittin 55b - 56a), we learn:
There was a man – never identified in the story – who threw a party and intended to invite his good friend Kamtza.  His servant, however, erred and mistakenly invited his enemy, Bar Kamtza.  When the host realized the mistake he immediately and very publicly demanded that Bar Kamtza leave the party.  Obviously embarrassed, Bar Kamtza made a series of offers – even, ultimately, offering to pay for the entire party – hoping to persuade the host to allow him to remain.  Unmoved, the host callously throws him out of the party.  The Gemara recounts that Bar Kamtza was so offended, not only by the host, but also by the silence of the guests – some of whom were great rabbis – that he slandered the Jewish people to the Caesar.  One thing leads to another and the result of this sad story is, ultimately, the destruction of the Beit Ha-Mikdash (Gittin 55b-56a).  

The Temple is destroyed because society had unraveled to the extent that problems with party invitations lead to complainsts against entire groups of people to the government.

While I don't believe we have reached this level in the US, I am alarmed by the negative tone of the campaign.I am cognizant that despite predictions of an Obama landslide (when Karl Rove predicts a Democratic landslide, you can take it to the bank), the country remains more divided than at any time I can remember.  If it was not for the Electoral College, it would be little more than a statistical advantage for Obama.

We have to remember that hatred of someone for their ideas or membership in a minority group unravels the fabric of our society and threatens to lead us to chaos.  Whether it is calling the Democratic candidate a terrorist or labeling those who vote for McCain as racists, this does nothing to solve the serious domestic and international problems facing our country.

I hope that we can come together after this divisive election, remembering to respect the divine image contained within the losers, and help our country reachieve its reputation for good in the world.

If you haven't voted yet, what are you waiting for?  As Hillel would say, if not now--when?

Rabbi Bruce 

PS  Tonight, after Barack Obama was declared President-Elect, Senator John McCain gave a great concession speach.  He spoke of the historic nature of P-E Obama's candidacy and now Presidency.  Unfortunately, his followers yelled "boo" every time he mentioned his opponent's name.  To his credit, he tried to stop this.  

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