Torah Portion: Kedoshim
Book of Leviticus
May 13, 2016
No country in the world has been more beloved and belittled, more envied and despised, than the United States of America. Through it all, the United States has striven to be a beacon of light to countries and individuals living in the shadows of conflict and terror. The spirit of this great country is encapsulated in the words of the Jewish poet Emma Lazarus in her sonnet inscribed on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
A nation’s identity is closely tied to the character of its national leadership. In the 20th century, the world was a better place because of the likes of Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and William Jefferson Clinton. These men, their predecessors and successors, understood the meaning of the verse in Leviticus 19:14- “You shall not insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind.” Rabbi Harold Kushner explains this verse to mean, “You shall not insult anyone, even a deaf person whose feelings will not be hurt by your words, because the use of coarse language diminishes you as a person. Maimonides, ever the rationalist, takes the words of the Torah as a warning, lest we see that our words do not affect the deaf person and we resort to physical violence.”
Today, the greatest threat to the United States as a moral/ethical voice of leadership in a world so lacking is the presumptive Republican nominee for the office of President. A demagogue is one who consciously appeals to desires and prejudices rather than rational argument. This aptly describes the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump. His is a campaign built not on hopes for a better future but fears of the recent past; not on rational debate of policy but on sexism, racism, Islamophobia, and narcissism. Members of his campaign have defended his remarks by noting he is an “equal opportunity insulter,” suggesting that insults and non-factual innuendo are qualities a nation should look for in its leadership.
Donald Trump is not the first world leader, nor will he be the last, to embrace hatred and division as a means for attaining power and influence. I have confidence the American people will see this threat for what it is, an assault on the very underpinnings of a democratic nation who proudly proclaim: “One nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.”
Rabbi Howard Siegel