Politics and Prayer

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. A good editorial cartoon can convey a message that a full page of print cannot. I was reminded of this recently when seeing one of these sketches in the Yated. It was a pencil and eraser in hand eliminating the words “Obama Legacy” stroke by stroke. Of course, it was referring to the remarkable times we live in, the Trump era. Yes, we can say it loud and clear. We should be most grateful for this administration, which has already brought considerable change in this last year and a half and is leading this country in the right direction. Whether or not it will succeed in reaching all of its goals only time will tell. But one can certainly not accuse the president of not trying.

Although he is tough, is accused of not being presidential, and overtweets, you get the feeling that unlike with the previous president, he is acting in the best interests of the country. In retrospect, he is the only candidate who was capable of defeating the Clintons, the Democrats and their lackeys, and the news media. Remember Mitt Romney, a polished politician, a refined family man with an accomplished career? He was certainly a formidable candidate with the right values and one who could serve our country with honor. What happened to him? The Democrats and the leftist news media tore into him with lies and innuendo. Had he been more aggressive in defending himself and focusing on Obama’s weaknesses, he would have been president, saving the country years of grief. But he was too nice of a guy. In the vicious world of politics, nice guys finish last.

Much to the chagrin of the political establishment and the press, President Trump dances to his own tune. He has come to Washington not as a politician, but as a shrewd businessman who gets things done. In his short tenure as chief executive, he has already made great strides in fulfilling his campaign pledge, “Make America Great Again.” He has invigorated a fatigued economy with substantial tax cuts and by tempering strict federal regulations that were burdensome to American factories. He has demanded fair trade with other countries and has worked hard to bring jobs to America. These efforts have already borne fruit, as the unemployment rate is the lowest it has been in eighteen years.

Unlike Obama, who was outclassed in the international arena by the Russians and Chinese, Trump is restoring American honor by showing we mean business in Syria and the Middle East in general. He is pro-Israel, in sharp contrast with his predecessor, and he has walked away from the Iranian nuclear deal, which made us look like patsies. As these lines are being written, negotiations with North Korea are taking place regarding their nuclear aspirations, something that just a few months ago was unthinkable. But he is able to do this because he is dealing from a position of strength. Even if nothing comes of it, the fact that the two countries sat at the same table and talked is incredible.

This period is a throwback to the 1980s, when we emerged from the days of the hapless Jimmy Carter to the era of Ronald Reagan, one of our greatest presidents, who restored American pride and played a great role in the fall of the Iron Curtain. All of the president’s accomplishments have come despite fierce opposition of the Democrats and little help from Republicans, not to mention the nonstop attacks by the news media and the never ending charade, the Mueller investigation into collusion with Russia There was talk of great hopes of the Democrats to make considerable gains in the coming mid-term elections, a blue wave sweeping the country. But with Mr. Trump’s approval ratings on the rise, this blue wave might just turn into a blue puddle.

Yes, much has happened to make things look rosier on the political scene, but one cannot get carried away with glee over it, because things could change in a heartbeat. Over the years, we have seen that the power in government swings back and forth like a pendulum, with changes in policy from one extreme to the other. The opposition is chomping at the bit to get back into power and will spare no effort to do so. Nor can the State of Israel feel comfortable with its present friendly relations with America, because lurking in the background are Democratic congressmen much more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.

We tend to forget that it is not the political scene that brings strength and security, but pure Hashgacha. Is there any other way of understanding the president’s rise to power against all odds and defying the predictions of all the pundits? And how do we explain his success amidst the constant barrage of antagonism he faces on a daily basis? The political scene is merely a distraction from what should be our primary concern: our relationship with Hashem and our dependence on Him.

In this week’s sedrah, Chazal teach us one of the most powerful mussar shmuessen derived from the poetry of Bilam and his father, Beor. When Sichon, the king of Emori, saw that he could not conquer the land of Moav, he hired Bilam and Beor to curse it. When they were victorious, they recited a poem celebrating the fact that Cheshbon, a stronghold of Moav, had now become Sichon’s capital, and from there he would advance like a fire to conquer other Moavite cities.

Al kein yomru hamoshlim bo’u Cheshbon.” Regarding this, the poets would say, “Come to Cheshbon. Tiboneh vesikonein ir Sichon. Let it be built and established as the city of Sichon” (Bamidbar 21). Chazal explained this homiletically: Al kein yomru hamoshlim refers to the rulers. Who are the true rulers? They are the ones who rule over themselves, those who are disciplined and follow the ways of Hashem. And what do they say? Bo’u Cheshbon, come let us make a cheshbon, a reckoning. What kind of reckoning? An accounting of the world. What a person gives up in this world because he fulfills a mitzvah, he will receive much greater reward in the World to Come. Conversely, for what a person gains in this world by doing an aveirah, he will face great punishment in the next world (Bava Basra 78b).

Come let us make a cheshbon shel olam, a reckoning of the world. What world are we talking about? In sports, there is the World Series, followed by millions to see who will be the champions of the game of baseball. Similarly, in soccer, there is the World Cup, followed by many around the world and more boring than watching paint dry. But can any of these be referred to as “world” anything when only a minute portion of the world’s population is interested? Obviously, the world there refers to the limited world of baseball or soccer.

When Chazal refer to the cheshbon of the world, they are talking about the real world, the world of the oveid Hashem, the only world that really matters. This is the world where governments and politicians don’t carry any clout. To the contrary, it is our avodah and our closeness to Hashem that influences world events. And this is our world, the only world that should be significant to us (heard from Rav Aharon Zuckerman, rov of Khal Zichron Pinchos in Lakewood, NJ).

Cheshbon shel olam can also mean the cheshbon of eternity. All of the events that take place in this world are temporary. Governments come and go. Fads come and go. What’s considered trendy today is considered archaic tomorrow. Only our mitzvos and maasim tovim last forever. This is what we say when we recite the brocha on the Torah, “vechayei olam nota besocheinu.” Hashem gave us the Torah and implanted eternal life within us. We have no concept of eternity, but we do know that in Olam Haba, we will need sustenance forever. Only our mitzvos are able to nurture us for eternity, and the more of these we accumulate, the more fortunate we will be in Olam Haba.

The Gemara also interprets the words Ir Sichon, the city of Sichon, as referring to the one who follows sicha na’eh, the sweet talk of the yeitzer hara and heretics who try to deter him from following the proper path. There are many forms of sicha na’eh. Today, we are bombarded with advertisements that convince us that to lead a good life, we need this new food or that new item. They seem harmless, mere sicha na’eh, pleasant talk. But with the passing of time, we are influenced and we indulge.

What was once considered a luxury and beyond a person’s means pretty soon becomes a necessity. People feel obliged to acquire it either because of family pressure or what the neighbors say and concern about getting shidduchim for their children if they are perceived as living too simple a lifestyle. This places a tremendous financial burden on people, compromising their quality of life. And what does it do for ruchniyus? This generation is much more “megushamdik” – indulgent in physical comforts – than previous generations. And it drastically compromises our spiritual level.

Sicha na’eh may also appear in the form of false hashkafos, crooked thoughts alien to our mesorah. Those trained in journalism are capable of articulating ideas anathema to a Torahdike Yid, and sophisticated verbiage can distort the truth. They will quote facts and figures to prove their point, and one can easily fall prey to their claims.

Yet another form of this pleasant talk is to follow the news. Is there anything wrong with knowing what transpires in the world around us? Unfortunately, in today’s day and age, with the deterioration of society, one must be very cautious about what they see or hear. But even in following political matters, there is danger in getting caught up in these events and forgetting how Hashem runs the world, and that our fortunes are not dependent on the success of this candidate or his party. As Chazal say about ikvisa deMeshicha, “We can only rely on our Father in heaven” (Sotah 49).

When we see political developments that are favorable to us, we must be grateful to Hashem, but we must never become complacent, for things can change very quickly. The leftists today pose a great danger for our ruchniyus. In the name of liberty and “tolerance,” they preach acceptance of all ideas, including toeivah and other concepts antithetical to Torah. Yidden in England today are facing a great problem with the passing of new laws that schools must “educate” their students about alternative lifestyles. Schools failing to adopt this new policy might be closed down.

What is to stop this from happening in our country, especially when these ideas are promulgated by the aggressive left-wing politicians and corrupt news media? And this is all done with sweet talk. That they are caring and merciful and welcoming of all types of ideas and ways of life. All, that is, except religion. We must daven to Hashem that our brethren in England be spared from this gezeirah and we be spared any spiritual peril brought about by perverted legislators.

“Rav Chanina Segan Hakohanim says: ‘I daven for the shalom of the government” (Avos 3:2). True shalom means spiritual shleimus as well, for if a country’s leaders are immoral, it has adverse effects on the entire nation. This should be our prime focus in following current events, and we must include this in our tefillos.