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Our True Value (Natzavim Night – 09/16/17)

Rabbi Neil Schuman

Our True Value
This past week Hillary Clinton released her book about 2016 Campaign, titled “What Happened.”
She won more votes for President than any white man in American history, captured the popular vote, but lost the election. She is the fifth person to win the popular vote and nonetheless not win.
The Founding Fathers, for varying reasons, distrusted popular democracy. The Southerners were wary of a challenge to slavery; others feared the emergence of a national demagogue. The Electoral College, Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist Paper No. 68, would block the rise of a leader with “talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity.” This reason may require us to rethink this institution.
Andrew Jackson was the first to suffer this constitutionally enabled result of losing-while-winning, when he conceded the 1824 race to John Quincy Adams. Jackson charged that he had been undone by a rigged ballot.
In 1888, Grover Cleveland lost in much the same manner to Benjamin Harrison, but then avenged his humbling four years later.
Samuel Tilden fell to Rutherford B. Hayes, in 1876; and yet, after the baroque, months-long struggle inside the Electoral College, Tilden seemed almost relieved. Now, he said, “I can retire to private life with the consciousness that I shall receive from posterity the credit of having been elected to the highest position in the gift of the people, without any of the cares and responsibilities of the office.”
In the ballot of 2000, Albert Gore, Jr., Bill Clinton’s Vice-President for eight years, won half a million more votes than the governor of Texas, George W. Bush. After losing the final battle before the Supreme Court, Gore soon departed Washington to brood in Nashville. He grew a beard, gained quite a bit of weight and seemed a bit lost.
It took him about six years to get his life together again. He shaved his beard, traveled the world giving lectures and made a documentary about climate change, and, in 2007, shared the Nobel Peace Prize with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Nonetheless, whenever someone would bring up the election of 2000, he says, “You win some, you lose some, and then there’s that little-known third category.”
Clinton has had a tough time dealing with the loss: “There are times when all I want to do is scream into a pillow.” Clinton describes the daily activity of working on the book with her collaborators, two former speechwriters and a researcher, as “cathartic.”  But “Literally, at times when I was writing it, I had to go lie down,” she said. “I just couldn’t bear to relive it.”
Friends who always hastened to praise Clinton for her determination to “keep going,” uniformly described her now as angry, confused, bitter, and sad. How did she make it from day to day? Chardonnay and a form of yoga that involves “alternate-nostril breathing.”[1]
The American Indians have an aphorism: Don’t judge someone until you stand in their moccasins.
Likewise, we have an expression:
 משנה מסכת אבות פרק ב-4 , וְאַל תָּדִין אֶת חֲבֵרָךְ עַד שֶׁתַּגִּיעַ לִמְקוֹמוֹ
Avot 2:4 “Don’t judge your friend until you stand in their place.”
None of us can image, the loss and frustration and embarrassment that Clinton has faced, yet the Torah exhorts us to move forward with our lives. In our parsha, it says.
רְאֵ֨ה נָתַ֤תִּי לְפָנֶ֨יךָ֙ הַיּ֔וֹם אֶת־הַֽחַיִּ֖ים וְאֶת־הַטּ֑וֹב וְאֶת־הַמָּ֖וֶת וְאֶת־הָרָֽע
  יט הַֽעִדֹ֨תִי בָכֶ֣ם הַיּוֹם֘ אֶת־הַשָּׁמַ֣יִם וְאֶת־הָאָ֒רֶץ֒ הַֽחַיִּ֤ים וְהַמָּ֨וֶת֙ נָתַ֣תִּי לְפָנֶ֔יךָ הַבְּרָכָ֖ה וְהַקְּלָלָ֑ה וּבָֽחַרְתָּ֙ בַּֽחַיִּ֔ים
Deuteronomy 30: 15: “Behold, I have placed before you this day, life and goodness, death and the bad. 19: I testify before the Heavens and Earth, I have placed before you, life and death, blessing and curse, Choose Life!”
Ekhart Tolle, one our generation’s great spiritual leaders, teaches us, in The Power of Now, how to do this:
“As long as you are identified with the mind, you have an externally derived sense of self. That is to say, you get your sense of who you are from things that ultimately have nothing to do with who you are: your social role, possessions, external appearance, successes and failures, belief systems, and so on. This false, mind-made self, the ego, feels vulnerable, insecure, and is always seeking new things to identify with to give it a feeling that it exists. But nothing is ever enough to give it lasting fulfillment. Its fear remains; its sense of lack and neediness remains.”
We mistake our external personas, roles and possessions for an identity of who we are, but that is not our true self.
What then is our true self?
“To know yourself as the Being underneath the thinker, the stillness underneath the mental noise, the love and joy underneath the pain, is freedom, salvation, enlightenment. It is to be who you are, to feel within you the good that has no opposite, the joy of Being that depends on nothing outside itself. It is felt not as a passing experience but as an abiding presence. In theistic language, it is to “know God” – not as something outside you but as your own innermost essence. True salvation is to know yourself as an inseparable part of the timeless and formless One Life from which all that exists derives its being.”
I applaud Clinton and Obama for recently making their presence and opinions known. Obama has been seen visiting schools, and Clinton has been coming out of her shell. Many times, former leaders disappear into the sunset, but America is now going through tumultuous times and we could use their inspiration and encouragement.
We all suffer loss and setbacks, but they shouldn’t define us. We are all beings of infinite worth and capabilities. The Torah tells us that life and goodness are before us, we just need to choose them.
Shana Tova
R’ Neil

[1] Still Here, David Remnick, The New Yorker, Sep. 12, 2017

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