Politics, Bad Middos and Daas Torah

Mention of Trump is Enough to Set Off a Holy War

There is almost nothing like politics to inflame passion. In today’s America, just the mention of one word, the word “Trump,” is enough to set off a war between his admirers and his detractors. The reason is that they are not admirers or detractors. The detractors have a visceral hate for him, while the admirers love many of the things he does and the sometimes unconventional ways that that he does them.

The truth is that both here in America and in Eretz Yisroel, we have recently come off very contentious, hard-fought elections. Elections that were fought with passion. Elections that were ostensibly about values.

 

Israeli Politics – A Real Blood Sport

If one thinks that passions were inflamed in America, just go to Eretz Yisroel. There, politics is truly a blood sport and, like it or not, in the chareidi community it hits a frenzied pitch.

This year, in many of the elections, the gedolei Yisroel of the various shevatim comprising the chareidi community had differing views on whom to vote for. The situation was such that different groups followed the advice of their particular rabbonim, but that advice conflicted with the views of rabbonim of other groups.

I must confess that as one who grew up as a temimusdige Pirchei boy in North America, it is still difficult for me to stomach this kind of powerful, all-consuming disagreement, especially when it comes to politics, and especially when it comes to political disagreements in the frum community. I find myself almost paraphrasing that paragon of philosophy and survivor of the Los Angeles riots and police brutality of 1991, Rodney King, who said, “Can’t we all just get along?”

 

A Ninety-Year-Old Contemporary Lesson from Rav Yeruchem Levovitz

I was so thankful to a friend for showing me a quote from a letter written by the illustrious Mirrer mashgiach, Rav Yeruchem Levovitz, after frum candidates were roundly defeated in an election for the Polish parliament. The letter was written some ninety years ago, but it offers lessons that are as applicable today as they were back then, and it may offer some real food for thought for those following politics both here and in Eretz Yisroel.

He writes: “Even though it is not my way to involve myself in these [political] matters…since I see the wider community is so disheartened as a result of the loss that the party sustained in the latest elections, I would like to point out that they should not be saddened nor fool themselves into thinking that their pain is due to a lack of kevod Shomayim. The difference between one political party and another is only in the degrees of good and bad. If not for the fact that there is a battle between good and evil in this world, there would be no such thing as political parties…

“Therefore, the first thing that a person must do is conduct a self-analysis and see how much evil exists within himself. Is he as pained by the evil that resides within him as much as he is pained by the evil that resides within the other political party? Is he as worked up and as angry at the ra, the evil, that he himself possesses?

“Someone told me that he was so distraught over the loss [of the political party] that he couldn’t sleep the night after the election loss… It would be appropriate to ask that same person if on Yom Kippur night, his feelings of being distraught let him sleep. If on Yom Kippur he is indeed able to sleep, it is incumbent on him to ask himself: Why? Why is it that on the night after an election loss I can’t sleep, whereas on Yom Kippur night I sleep peacefully? Why is it that with regard to the ra, the bad and evil that resides within you, you do not get emotionally worked up, but the bad and evil that exist within the other party do succeed in upsetting your equilibrium?

“We are left with the obvious conclusion that the fact that you are distraught is not because you hate evil and you worry about Hashem’s kavod. Rather, it is the kavod of people of flesh and blood that causes you to take things to heart…”

When a friend showed me this letter from Rav Yeruchem quoted in a Torah publication from Eretz Yisroel titled “Az Nidberu,” it was an eye opener.

 

Worried About Kevod Shomayim?

I must confess to becoming very agitated when I hear people putting forth political opinions that I know are both foolish and against Torah values. The question is why. Why does it get me so much more worked up than living with the inherent contradictions that I make peace with in my own avodas Hashem?

Certainly, we should know what is right. Certainly, if warranted, we should convince others about the importance of supporting a political candidate if the values he espouses will help us live better lives as Yidden. But the acrimony, the anger and the fighting are more about bad middos, as depicted in the words of Rav Yeruchem. It is about the kavod of bossor vodom rather than kevod Shomayim.

Similarly, any thinking person who votes should take into account whether the politicians who have promised them “everything” or claimed to have done so much for them have really done so. As Ronald Reagan famously said when he was campaigning against Jimmy Carter, “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”

So yes, one should vote with seichel, but the anger, the acrimony, and the bad middos have little to do with values and a lot to do with bad middos.

This brings us to Eretz Yisroel. If here in America they say that politics is a blood sport, in Eretz Yisroel it is even more so. Over there, religion and politics are bundled together in a Gordian knot that really makes things complicated.

For example, in Eretz Yisroel, during this past election, each party had their gedolim they followed. Each party had clear instructions from gedolim that it was a chov kadosh to vote for their party.

So what does a person do when his party loses? What does a person do when the gadol’s advice did not lead to victory?

 

The Result is Up to Hashem

For this we turn to the Chazon Ish. We learn a profound lesson on what daas Torah is and isn’t from the following story brought in the Az Nidberu publication:

A person once went to the Chazon Ish, questioning whether he should undergo a certain operation or not. The person put down all of the facts and figures in front of the Chazon Ish – the type of operation, the chances for success versus failure, the dangers, etc. The Chazon Ish listened to all of the variables and, after deliberation, advised him to have the operation. Later, the Chazon Ish was told that the operation was unsuccessful and the patient had died. People asked the Chazon Ish, “How are you able to deal with the fact that the person underwent the operation upon your advice and you were ultimately wrong and he died?” The Chazon Ish answered, “If a different person would come to me now with all of the same facts and figures that this person had presented to me, I would give him the identical advice. The fact that the operation was unsuccessful is not a contradiction to the fact that according to these figures, this was what he was supposed to do.”

In other words, when one consults a person who truly has daas Torah, he is not necessarily asking what will work; only Hashem knows what will work. Rather, he is asking what he should do according to the Torah, but the result is up to Hashem.

When it comes to politics or any issue, the question is: What does the Torah want me to do? After that, we leave things up to Hashem. Just like we are matzdik the din, when something bad happens to us, despite our efforts to prevent it, so too, the result is not in our hands or in the hands of the person who has daas Torah. He can only tell you what to do in accordance with his shikul hadaas, his analysis of the facts.

If we would understand and internalize this concept, then as a result of following daas Torah, we would be very firm in our political views, but that knowledge would not mean that we have to hate others who have a legitimate opinion based on the opinion of their Torah authority.

If a person finds himself hating the person who follows the advice of his rabbeim because they are different than those of his rabbeim, and he is unable to calm his anger, the best thing he can do is read Rav Yeruchem’s letter.