Posted by: R Jonathan Gewirtz | November 17, 2016

Election. Results.

(Originally Published November 6, 2016)ballot

By the time you read this, the Unites States will likely have elected its new president, unless we have another issue like in 2000 (but I’ll spare you the Gore-y details.)

Assuming a clear winner is decided, life will go back to normal a certain amount, and the news will have to find better stories than what we’ve been subjected to the past long number of months. People will stop pontificating about what this one or that one will do to the country, and we can stop looking for ways to put down the candidate that we don’t like.

It strikes me as ironic that people who “know” so much about politics have no clue that there really are very few undecideds out there. We each find the candidate we feel will do a better job of protecting what’s important to us, and tend to overlook his or her shortcomings. I doubt that many people were swayed by the mudslinging that took place or the constant haranguing of, “You’re planning to vote for WHOM??? Do you know that s/he…?!” Blah. Blah. Blah.

For all their campaigning, people pretty much decided that they either liked or disliked the current establishment and voted to keep the status quo or for change. For the next four (or maybe eight) years, the people who voted for the winner will keep the bumper sticker on their car to show that they were right, even if the President does a terrible job.

In some states, it may not even matter how a person votes because the Electoral College can override a popular vote. I don’t know exactly how that mechanism works but I’m pretty sure it involves some of the same scientific principles that make vinegar and baking soda explode in a frothy mess. Does that mean you shouldn’t vote? Of course not. It’s your civic duty, and your obligation as a Jew, to be part of the process.

You see, our job, in an election or in life, is NOT to achieve results. It’s to make the effort.

There’s a famous story about R’ Elyashiv z”l who had been very active in political discussions and machinations leading up to elections for the Knesset. The day after the elections he didn’t know who had won, but didn’t care either. He explained, “I had to be busy with the elections and make my efforts, but when it came to the actual election, HaShem chose the winners. It doesn’t matter to me who won.”

Some of you may say that’s simplistic or perhaps “putting on blinders,” but that’s only if a piece of you doesn’t think HaShem runs the world. Free will doesn’t mean that G-d will let you do whatever you want, but that He will let you try to do it. If your goal is something that He didn’t decree to happen, you will fail.

Did you ever notice that what a politician promises to do when he campaigns is not what he does in office? It’s because when your decisions affect many people, HaShem will limit your free will. He doesn’t let the elected officials do those things that He is against.

In Chovos HaLevavos, R’ Bachya teaches that we cannot control the outcome of events, so we can’t be held responsible for completing a task. All we are responsible for is the effort. If we try to give tzedaka but the person refuses it, we still did the right thing. If we prepare to offer someone a ride but they get one from someone else, we’re better for having been thoughtful.

There is an interesting corollary to this understanding. It means that if I chose NOT to get involved in lobbying for or against a particular candidate, I didn’t end up changing history. The winner is who the winner was going to be, and my attempts to guide others to my viewpoint didn’t actually affect the outcome.

Realizing this, we can ask ourselves if perhaps we could have used our time in more beneficial ways. Could we have benefited from not training ourselves to badmouth others or choosing not to get angry and waste other people’s time? All the effort we put into sharing our views was rather pointless and would never lead to results anyway.

We have a choice in life as to what we will spend our time and energy on. We can use our creativity to help people or swindle them; to do good or to do evil. We can choose to spend our time in shul communing with HaShem, or, chas v’shalom, ignoring Him and shmoozing with our friends so we can stroke our own egos by droning on about our opinions and getting laughs at our jokes.

It’s time to take stock of our actions and remember that all the weeks, months, and years of campaigning will boil down to one day when most of them will be shown to have been for naught. Instead, let’s choose to focus on things we can and should be doing in our service of HaShem and our fellow man. Instead of pointing out people’s flaws, let’s look for the good in each other. Let’s find ways to make a difference in the type of people we become.

In that way, no matter who is elected, WE will be the winners.

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