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Cantor's Comments - Parshat Vayera                              November 7, 2020 - 20 Cheshvan 5781

11/06/2020 10:31:11 AM


Hello everyone, I’m Cantor Jeremy, welcome to another Beth Radom video d’var torah. 

Just so we’re all clear, as I’m recording this video it’s late on Thursday night, and my tv has been on for nearly 3 days straight tuned in to the news.  If I look like I have bags under my eyes for not having slept for the last few days, that’s because I have bags under my eyes for not having slept for the last few days.  Those of you who may not know, both Jamie and I are American citizens and we cast absentee ballots.  Here’s my ballot, and this is 100% real, this is my ballot which has not been cast because it arrived in my mailbox on Wednesday (thank you American postal service), so the only value it has now is purely sentimental.  I’m only slightly comforted by the fact that I vote in New York, and so we can safely say that they didn’t need it too badly. 

Occasionally on this channel, I’ve enjoyed taking a few cheap-shots at American politics, and those who know me, know that I’ve never been a fan of Donald Trump, but I generally still avoid wading too deeply into political waters of any kind in an official capacity.  But I think this time, I am compelled to make an exception.  And before I criticize, I feel it is absolutely critical to give credit where credit is due.  Donald Trump has been, throughout his presidency, an avid supporter of Israel, more so than any other American president in history, and while we can argue whether or not that support is in Israel’s best interest, that fact remains.  It is also largely due to the support of the Trump administration that Israel has made enormous progress in normalizing its relationships with some of its Arab and Muslim neighbours including Bahrain, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates, and that is an enormously big deal.  A few months ago, I was concerned that America’s enabling of Israel would lead to the annexation of the West Bank, and a dangerous move towards a one-state solution, and I was wrong.  In fact, it was in part because an American-enabled Israel was so strong and threatening, that these countries were compelled to go to the negotiating table.  I must admit that I am more confident today about Israeli foreign relations and optimistic about middle east peace than I can remember, and that is most assuredly due in part to the Trump administration.  Similarly, if you assess the health of the US economy based on the behaviour of the markets pre-COVID, at which time the American unemployment rate was also at a record low, we must credit Donald Trump because these are metrics that are good and healthy for any country, whether or not we agree about the way in which they were accomplished. 

But, at his press conference on Wednesday, I watched Donald Trump utter the words, “we have to stop the voting”.  On the surface, it seems perfectly reasonable.  The election was Tuesday.  You can’t vote on Wednesday or any time thereafter, obviously excluding absentee ballots.  But that’s not what he was referring to.  He wants to stop the COUNTING of the ballots, and his choice of words could not have been more deliberately misleading.  Voting after the election day is illegal, but counting ballots for days and even weeks following an election is not just legal, this year due to COVID, it’s absolutely necessary, and Trump knows that it’s dangerous for him.  This is because he knows that those remaining ballots are far more likely to be votes for Biden.  Why?  Because the ballots left to be counted are the mail-in ballots which take more time to process, ballots that were cast by people who would rather not go anywhere near a crowded polling station over concerns about coronavirus—a concern that is shared primarily among democratic voters.  This means that Trump’s cry of election fraud is itself so transparently fraudulent, that I’m nauseated.   

Of course, it’s not the first time that Trump has deliberately lied or misled the public.  It’s not the first time that he has been caught deliberately lying or misleading the public.  It’s not even the first time that he has been caught deliberately lying or misleading the public with mortally dangerous consequences to public health and safety, and let there be no mistake, by claiming election fraud, Donald Trump is inciting civil unrest that very well may lead to violence.  It is just one more example of the extent to which one man will go to serve his own lust for power and adulation.  It is narcissism in its rawest, truest form, and only a drop in the bucket next to the stream of hate, bigotry, bluster, gas-lighting, buffoonery and hyperbole that has defined Donald Trump’s term as president and the representation of the United States on the world stage for the last four years. 

In our parsha this week, Vayera, God informs Abraham that He intends to destroy the city of Sodom for their wickedness.  The Talmud lists 109 examples of the kinds of atrocities commonly committed by the people of Sodom including rape, murder, thievery, corruption, and interestingly, isolationism is listed in there too.  Abraham nevertheless argues with God, asking Him to spare the people of Sodom.  God agrees on the condition that Abraham is able to find at least 50 good people who didn’t deserve to be destroyed.  But Abraham isn’t done arguing, and asks God if He would still consider sparing the city if he could only find 45 good people.  Abraham even tries to manipulate God, saying “What if the fifty innocent should lack five? Will You destroy the whole city for want of the five?” (Gen. 18:28).  God agrees not to destroy Sodom if Abraham is able to find 45 righteous people.  But Abraham is still not finished, eventually bargaining with God down to just 10 people—that if Abraham could find just 10 righteous people in the entire city of Sodom, for the sake of those 10, God would spare a city of murderers and rapists.

We are all meant to try and emulate Abraham, to be as righteous, to be as noble and as selfless.  It is an amazing virtue to be the kind of person who sees the best in everyone, who gives everyone the benefit of the doubt, and who always chooses mercy, even when it may not be deserved.  Our tradition teaches us that it was not really God who chose Abraham to be the father of a great and mighty nation.  Rather, Abraham distinguished himself by being the only one who’s spirit was such that it was open and attuned to be able to receive a Divine broadcast.  But even Abraham could only defend Sodom to a point.  When Abraham could not find even 10 righteous people among the entire city of Sodom, he had no choice but to concede, villainy could not be defended any further.

From Neo-Nazis to the Proud Boys and other variations of white supremacy, there’s no doubt that there are way too sick and despicable people out there.  I understand why they would find their champion in Donald Trump.  But if this election has shown us anything, it has shown us that there are also a lot of good, normal, well-meaning folks who also support him, and either their capacity for forgiveness is positively Abrahamic, or there is something else deeply wrong with our society.  Perhaps social media is to blame, perhaps it’s materialism and greed, maybe it’s the kind of Sodomite isolationism that today manifests itself in the way we treat immigrants, I don’t know.  But for now, I’ll simply be content that soon, like Sodom, the name Trump will once again be nothing more than a cautionary tale of what a society can become when we believe ourselves to be better than our fellow man, rather than believe IN ourselves that we can just be better. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Mon, July 4 2022 5 Tammuz 5782