Since the US presidential election one week ago, many of us are coming to terms with an outcome that few saw coming. Regardless of whether one voted for Clinton or Trump, emotions were and remain high. More so than in any other election in recent memory, the extremist rhetoric and fear-mongering that took place during this election left voters literally scared of what would happen to our country if the opposing candidate won. Emotions that intense do not dissipate easily, and so the country has not yet returned to its usual hum. The tone of our discourse matters, and when our leaders set aside discussion of issues in favor of vicious character assassinations, a hateful train had left the station with all of us strapped in for the ride. As the election progressed, the attacks against each candidate and each party became more virulent and spiteful. Just to brush such speech and rhetoric off by saying that this was just "election season talk" is not sufficient. I fear that the American people have emerged from this election season more convinced than ever that hateful rhetoric and spiteful speech can be justified if the end justifies the means. This is tragic, as such a perspective is so antithetical to our Torah values.
The Torah refers to Avraham Avinu as Avraham Ha’Ivri. Rabbi Yehuda suggests that this title reflects the reality that the whole world was “mai’ever echad v’hu mei’ever echad” – the whole word was on one side and Avraham was on another side. When the world around him practiced together in a manner that he knew was wrong, Avraham had the courage to be different. Specifically, Avraham is called "Ivri" in the context of the war against the four kings. After the war, Avraham acted differently than any other king would have. Every other king in his position would have taken control of the entire country. Even more so in the case of Avraham, we might have understood him rationalizing such a mass conquest as he had in fact been promised a land and had a mission to spread ethical monotheism to his neighbors. Surely Avraham could have told himself that this was his opportunity to actualize his promise and his mission by conquering the land and forcibly converting all of its inhabitants. However, Avraham did not do as others in his place would have done. Avraham was an "Ivri," and he realized that the end did not justify the means.
Today as we come to terms with the current state of discourse and disagreement in the society around us, let us remember that we are all descendants of Avraham. In the spirit of Avraham Avinu, Avraham Ha’Ivri, let us tell our children that we need not accept all the values of the society around us. Though our politicians and political leaders may stoop to vicious personal attacks in order to be successful, we must condemn and reject such behavior. While personal attacks may at times make you more popular, and may get you elected or ahead in your company, such attacks create a toxic environment that is almost never worth the gains. In your company, your country, or your neighborhood the damage created by malicious speech is not easily undone.
Avraham Avinu spent his entire life journeying to a destination he never quite reached. His life is not defined by its end, but by its journey and the wonderful values that he exhibited along his way. As this election season comes to a close, let us see beyond the particulars of whether our candidate won or lost, and instead let us focus on keeping our integrity intact and our community strong. Let us take this opportunity to strengthen our communication with others, and be mindful of the environment that our words create. In doing so, our efforts will outlast any one campaign and any single politician's reign.