- Shabbat Shalom
- I have to say that I envy Abraham in this week’s parsha. There were many times I would have loved to choose a spouse for my children; I thought I had found just the right person and I wanted nothing less then having both of them spend the rest of their lives together in love and in happiness. Alas, that is not the way of our world. Actually, my children made really good choices, so I can’t complain. I love their spouses as if they were my own children. But even for those of us who live in a world where our children pick their spouse for themselves, there still are important lessons for all of us, parents, grandparents and even for children and grandchildren in the story of Isaac and Rivka.
- Abraham’s servant, we call him Eliezer but he is unnamed in our text, sets out to find just the right girl for Isaac. He could have taken an easy road in this task. He could have gone straight to the home of Abraham’s family, to Bethuel’s home and stated his purpose for the trip. If he would have done this, what do you think might have happened? Let us remember the setting. The servant comes with gifts of gold and cattle for the family of the girl that he selects to marry Isaac. I am sure that Bethuel would have wanted his daughter to marry this distant relative and keep the wealth for himself. He would have praised the beauties and virtues of Rivka and maybe even denigrated some of the other local girls. After all, Rivka had to be the perfect choice for the son of his cousin Abraham.
- I can even hear the conversation. “Eliezer, I know the perfect girl for Isaac. There are lots of girls here in the city, but you really couldn’t do better than my daughter Rivka She is beautiful, kind and has all the skills Isaac would need from a wife living at the edge of the wilderness in Canaan. She knows her way to tend to the herds, for cooking and weaving. She is not like the other girls who waste their time at the watering hole. She is not like them at all. They all gossip constantly and make fun of the other shepherds. They all like to spend their days putting on makeup and fixing their hair, not the kind of girl a sheik of the desert would want for a wife. Those other girls are too spoiled living in the city to want to go an live in a tent. No, Eliezer, you could not find a better girl suited for Isaac than our Rivka
- Of course, we know that the servant was not in a hurry to go to the home of Abraham’s family. Instead he stopped at the well so he could see for himself how the local girls went about their daily tasks. At the well, he could observe how they reacted to a stranger with his animals at the well. By the time he gets to Bethuel’s home, he knows that Rivka is the right girl for Isaac and the rest is all in the negotiation. It turns out to be a good match and while their life is not easy, Isaac will come to love Rivka.
- So here we are, on the eve of the midterm elections, and we face a dilemma very similar to Abraham’s servant. For months, we have endured the constant barrage of campaign promises that predict the future if only we vote for the right candidate. I guess that I would not mind the constant advertising if it were not so negative all the time. I find myself paying attention to those ads that speak to what one candidate will do, and I try to ignore the ads that put down the competition.
- I am reminded of the Rabbi who watched two brothers arguing over which boy was taller. The older boy wanted to stand back to back with the other one and measure their height. But the younger boy insisted that they needed to correct for the older age of his brother. He came upon a plan to have his brother stand in a ditch when they were back to back, to compensate for the age difference. The Rabbi admonished the younger brother, “Why is it always to build yourself up you have to lower your brother? You could achieve the same effect if you were to raise yourself up on a stone.
- I never understand why candidates have to tear down their opponents rather than build themselves up. Actually, I do know WHY they do it. They do it because it works. Survey after survey shows that we voters don’t always remember the good candidates, but we always remember the names of the bad ones. So to win, it is not enough to speak praises of your own accomplishments, but you have to make sure that your opponent is remembered in a negative way. Just think about this for a moment. If we want to we can remember all the negative ads we have seen. But we hardly can recall the positive sides of the candidates. We would not be so far off the mark if we think that the candidates for office are all the same. Their promises are also field tested to resonate with the voters. There is often not too many real differences between the campaign platforms.
- None of the candidates are for higher taxes. None of them want larger deficits. All of them want Americans to have better health care. All of them want to clear out the corruption and end the back room deal making that is so much a part of government. Nobody is going to end Social Security. President Obama and Nancy Pelosi are not on the Florida ballot, even though they are in almost half of the ads on TV. And, did you notice, that the bad guys are always in black and white, while the good guys are always shown in living color. Everyone wants there to be more jobs and they are in favor of getting our economy moving again. They may disagree on HOW they will do all of these things, but they all agree on what is important to voters. After all, they have had months of polling data to show just how you are all thinking and what the candidates need to say to get your vote.
- So the real test for a candidate is not to get you to agree with him or her. The real job is to get you to believe that the opponent is NOT for these important issues. Every day I listen to the fact checking organizations and they say over and over that the negative ads are false, lies and smears. In the end, it doesn’t matter if they are true or not. If they can make us suspicious, that is all they need to do. If you are unsure, you will hesitate before marking your ballot.
- Like Bethuel, we are getting only a daily dose of what the candidates want us to hear. We don’t buy cars based on the advertising, we only pay attention to the nature of the sale. We don’t plan our vacations based on what the country or resort looks like on TV, but if travel is 50% off, then we might look deeper. Why then would we vote based on campaign ads without looking deeper?
- Eliezer’s approach is better. We need to go out and do our own research. Guess what? There are many non-partisan groups who have done all this research for us and are happy to give us side by side comparisons of all the candidates for office. And they give out this information for free! They only want voters to have all the REAL information before going to the polls. With all that information, we can be ready to make up our own minds. It is like going to the well to see what the candidates are really like in their usual situations.
- In preparing to vote, Michelle and I first went to the website of the League of Women Voters. Virtually all the candidates had filled out position papers on questions that the League had supplied knowing that the answers would be listed side by side with their opponents. Stripped of all the hype and scare tactics, it was not too hard to see which positions held by the candidates were closest to what we would like to see in government. The League of Women Voters did not tell us how to vote, but it did give us insight into how each one would perform in office. The Jewish Journal, in this week’s edition, included as a pull out section, the information from the League of Women Voters. Take a good hard look at it and you will quickly see the importance of this section in helping to determine how we should vote.
- For the Judicial retention votes, I like to check out the rankings of the judges on the Bar poll. Lawyers appear before these judges and they are asked to rank how fair and impartial they are. It is rare that a judge has a 100% rating, but if the majority of lawyers who appear before these judges are unhappy, there must be something wrong. In choosing between judges in a non-partisan race, it is not so difficult to find a list of each one’s experience and compare who might be the best given the kinds of cases that will appear in that court. This information is always reported in the newspapers and if you miss it, you can get the information online at the newspaper’s website.
- Michelle and I also like to check out the endorsements of local newspapers. This is often not very helpful but sometimes there are issues that are not readily apparent. This is particularly true when it comes to the ballot initiatives. From the ads, you might never know what the ballot questions are really about. Between the endorsements and the information from the League of Women Voters, you can clearly see what the ballot questions are trying to accomplish and who is sponsoring them (or who is opposing them) it is not too hard to figure how to vote on these issues.
- How long does all of this take? On the Sunday after we receive our sample ballots (I always wait for the sample ballot since I don’t want to waste time on a candidate or an issue that is not on my ballot) Michelle and I spend a couple of hours in the afternoon doing our research and by dinner we are pretty set on who are the best candidates for us and how we would vote on the ballot questions. And No, we don’t always vote the same way. We share most of our values but sometimes we do disagree. We mark our ballots and unless something changes, that is who we vote for. From that point on, when the negative commercials come on the TV, we go and get a snack.
- So who are we voting for? That my friends is a secret. I can only tell you that we take voting very seriously and, in some cases thought long and hard about who would earn our votes. I can tell you however, who YOU should vote for….. You should vote for any and all candidates that stand for positions with which you agree. That is how I vote and it is how you should vote as well.
- And remember, if you don’t vote, I don’t want to hear your complaints about how awful our representatives are. If you don’t like who I voted for, then get out and vote. It is a duty and a responsibility for every citizen. The Polls open at 7 am on Tuesday.