As we approach another year of civic duty in casting our vote, I wanted to share a few traditional and contemporary sources from both rabbinic literature and Jewish thinkers that have made the case for taking an active role in civic matters. I also wanted to offer some personal thoughts as we cast our ballots:
Rabbi Yitzhak taught, “A ruler is not to be appointed unless the community is first consulted.” – Talmud, Brakhot 55a
“This is the generation and those who seek its welfare” (Psalms 24:6). Rabbi Judah the Patriarch and the sages differed in this matter. One opinion was that the character of the generation is determined by its leader. According to the other opinion, the character of the leader is determined by the generation. –Talmud, Arakhin 17a
Rabbi Hanina, the Deputy of Priests, would often say, “Pray for the welfare of the government, for were it not for the fear of it, people would swallow each other alive.”– Pirkei Avot 3:2
I believe our sacred obligation is to make conscious and deliberate choices rooted in our own values and authenticity. We can advocate and stand our ground without getting sucked into the anger and hatred that is swirling around us. The way we treat others, in our daily encounters, has deep impact. One person’s kindness, respect, and empathy can start a chain reaction that reaches countless others. To see ourselves in others is what allows the Divine to dwell between two people – for love to overcome hate, peace to overcome violence.
This work requires learning how to pause. It means not reacting to our first feeling and checking in with what really matters and acting accordingly. From here, we have a chance not to be guided by the hurts of the past or the fears of the future, but to be grounded in who we are today, which allows us to be our best selves.
May we all be blessed in this moment where we are each called to civic duty and action… with presence so we may be present for others; with strength and pride in our convictions and identity while respecting and honoring those different from us. May we each be the fully expressed versions of our wonderful selves, unlimited by our ideals, and deeply empowered by our authenticity.
-Rabbi Jason Nevarez