As the twins struggled in her womb, Rebekah sought out the Holy One, who answered her: “Two nations are in your womb, two separate peoples shall issue from your body; one people shall be mightier than the other, and the older shall serve the younger” (Etz Hayim, p. 147). Indeed one could not find a more different set of twins. Isaac preferred Esau, a man of the field; Rebekah preferred Jacob, a tent sitter.
Have we witnessed the birth of twin peoples in the United States with the 2020 elections? We have two distinct political parties that reflect two different sets of values and perspectives, with a growing inability to find commonality. The fact that we are all Americans should be enough to connect us, but sadly we seem to be in different vehicles, on different roads, at different times, going to different places.
When the glue that unites us is the “H” speech that we hurl at someone not of our political persuasion, it becomes abundantly clear that we are headed in the wrong direction. “H” speech leads to violence and the Dark Side, with our transformation complete. Is this the saga to be written about America?
I not only vociferously say “no,” but also reject any efforts to create such a scenario. Instead of struggling for dominance, we must unite to better our society for all of our inhabitants.
We must refocus on our common needs, not our common “H.” All of us want COVID-19 to go away, and while the news of a potential cure is exciting, it will still be some time before its efficacy is proven and a sufficient campaign is launched to immunize every American. Yet the number of infections and deaths continue to rise in the U.S. and abroad. It is only through unity of purpose that we will persevere, and not the pandemic.
Please wear a mask to keep your family, your friends and your fellow citizens safe. Please observe a minimum physical distance of 6 feet. Please wash your hands. This must be a common social contract that all Americans embrace as a sign of unity.
I recall a comparable scenario in the late 1960s when Americans argued about wearing seat belts, with those opposed stating that wearing a seat belt infringed on their personal freedom. All states, except for New Hampshire, made it a law, and we moved on, saving countless lives. How can our current needs be any different?
COVID-19 also has created a vast subsystem of secondary impacts: loss of employment, which leads to loss of health care, food insecurity, homelessness, and brazen acts of racism and anti-Semitism. I do believe that united we can work out solutions to the great challenges that we are facing, but it must start by recognizing that, just as the pandemic does not opt for a particular political party, we must put aside red versus blue, and focus instead on red, white and blue.
Esau demonstrates maturity and resiliency by integrating the grudge that he harbored for Jacob into his being, so that their reunion was indeed very moving. I pray that all Americans gain Esau’s strength to put aside political parties and move past the “H,” so that together we can model the resiliency necessary to restore our United States. PJC
Rabbi Jeffrey Myers is the rabbi of Tree of Life Congregation. This column is a courtesy of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.