Thursday, August 2, 2012

DNC: Deuteronomic National Convention

It’s election time in the U.S. and the campaigns are in full swing. Mitt Romney just returned from a trip to England, Israel and Poland to demonstrate his foreign policy chops. President Obama has announced a trip to Israel in his hoped-for second term, as well as some policy decisions seemingly designed to defeat Romney’s efforts to diminish his foreign policy accomplishments. And soon come the party conventions, where we can only hope the candidates will give us a peak at their core values, their genuine visions for America’s future.

I mention vision and values because to me they’re at the heart of choosing a candidate. I ask myself: What is this person’s vision for a just society, and is it a vision I can support? As a religious Jew, in reflecting on what a just society looks like I turn to the Torah. When one thinks of the core values of Judaism certain essentials come to mind: liberation from slavery; the uniqueness of God; the Ten Commandments affirming a moral and sacred order to human existence; and the ensuing list of mitzvot which implements the love relationship between God and the Jewish people.

All of these are found in this week’s Torah reading, Va’etkhanan. Here, in stirring eloquence, our greatest prophet and political leader, Moses, reminds us that our central task is to live in accordance with the teachings of God; to conduct ourselves and our dealings with others in such a way that we cultivate the wisdom, compassion and justice possible for human society.

This Shabbat is also called Nakhamu, Comfort, after the first word of the Haftarah. It arrives immediately after Tisha B’Av, and we derive comfort in its message of a future of redemption through teshuvah and growth. We also derive comfort through history – 2000 years after the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem we are still here; not just surviving, but flourishing. We understand, therefore, that the moment we are now living through is not permanent; change is possible, desirable even, and the future awaits us if we recommit ourselves to God and to each other.

Va’etkhanan asks Jews to recommit to a sacred covenant that binds us, a timeless vision of a just society. It is a vision of comfort, well being, meaning and purpose that is larger than any individual or party platform; something that will extend beyond our own lives, that will continue even when we are gone. 

It may be naïve, but I would love to hear our candidates describe what they see as the core values we as a society should live by. Beyond talk of tax increases or decreases. Beyond empty pandering to the right or left. I would love them to inspire us, as the Torah does, with a vision of how citizens coming together, acting justly, can be a force for good. Like Moses, truly great leaders both empathize with our human frailties and demand that we try hard to live up to our highest values.

Now that’s the kind of convention speech I wouldn’t miss.

And you? What kind of speech would you love the candidates to make?

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