Among the more interesting experiences that my family and I have enjoyed while living in Toronto, has been experiencing U.S. Presidential campaigns from outside the U.S. First, living outside the U.S. during this time allows for a bit of an escape as opposed to the national obsessing that has been occurring south of the border. Second, by living outside the U.S, we have wider perspective as part of our “calculus” for voting is now influenced from the perspective of how the rest of the world views the candidate. Third, by being outside of the political storm we can see things a little clearer than those who live in the storm. We have watched the debates. We have spoken frequently to our eldest daughter who has been living in the storm that is a Presidential campaign for nearly 18 months. As we watch the campaign from across the border, there have been numerous times where we have shaken our heads in disgust as this campaign has seemed to be a race to the gutter as Donald Trump has demeaned the process in terms of his language, his behavior, and his lashing out at numerous constituencies including fellow Republicans. However what has been particularly revealing is the insight he has given us into his character. As the campaign has evolved, as incendiary statements have been made, as he didn’t engage in any preparation for the first debate, as tapes were discovered in which he discussed groping women, as he missed an opportunity to apologize and prepare for the second debate, and has polls indicate diminished support for him, Trump began to do something unprecedented. As the futility of campaigning rose, he began planting the seeds of a “rigged election”, that the “fix” was in, and if he anyone but Trump wins, then the new president-elect out to be considered illegitimate. That idea, an idea that he had been sharing at numerous “Trump Rally’s”, now became explicit this week during the third debate. Trump’s stunning closing comment now attempts to spread his sense of futility of his campaign to the futility of the entire voting/electing process.
This Shabbat is known as Shabbat Chol HaMoed Sukkot, the Intermediate Sabbath of Sukkot holiday, one of the Five Scrolls is traditionally read. On this particular Shabbat, we read from Sefer Kohelet, the scroll of Ecclesiastes. According to the tradition, Shlomo HaMelech, King Solomon, towards the end of his life, wrote this Megillah, this scroll. Tradition has this perspective because the language is not one of optimism but rather realism. This is a person who as “seen it all” – Ein Kol Chadash Tachat HaShemesh – There is nothing new under the sun! There is a certain harsh realism and a certain sense of harsh optimism. V’Saneiti et HaChayim Ki Ra Alai HaMa’aseh SH’Na’aseh Tachat HaShemesh Ki HaKol Chavel – So I hated life, for I was depressed by all that goes on under the sun, because everyone is futile. The author provides us with a no holds barred sense of comfort. He does not coddle us. He does not baby us. He doesn’t offer any artificially sweetened philosophy, or anything will dull our pain, diminish our disappointment, or ease the fear of death. Rather the author shoves our faces in “reality”, telling us that our labor seems futile, and if it is futile what is the point of it?
Kohelet, the Preacher, explains that life does indeed seem futile. He shares his frustration that he has toiled and had to give to those who haven’t toiled. He shares his frustration that his work, his business seems futile because when the day ends, he is still worrying about his business at night. Kohelet seems to have no internal peace, no ability to appreciate the moment, nor does he seem to have a mechanism that allows him to find a sense of peace amid his perceived futility. So, Kohelet, the Preacher, begins to search, and begins to experiment with the various lifestyles, hoping that he will be able to find internal peace, that he will be able to develop an ability to appreciate the moment. Certainly has we read the twelve chapters of a man striving for wisdom; we gain insight into his character. Kohelet shares with us what he has learned. V’Ra’iti Ki Ein Tov Mei’Asher Yismach Ha’Adam B’Maasav Ki Hu Chelko – I observed that there is nothing better for man than to be happy in what he is doing; Tov M’Lo Chaf Nachat Mimlo Hafnayim Amal UrUt Ruach - Better is one handful of pleasantness than two fistfuls of labor and vexation of the spirit; Al T’Vaheil Al Picha V’Libecha Al Yimaheir- Be not rash with your mouth and let not your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, Ohev Kesef Lo Yisbah Kesef – a lover of money will never be satisfied with money; Tov Lishmoah Ga’Arat Chacham M’Ish Shomeah Shir K’silim – It is better to listen to the rebuke of a wise man than for one to listen to the song of fools; and finally Sof Davar Ha’Kol Nishma et Ha’Elohim Y’Rah et Mitzvotav Shmor Ki Zeh Kol Ha’Adam –The sum of the matter, when all has been considered; Fear God and keep his commandments for that is man’s whole duty.
If there was any one individual who might have thought a system was rigged; it was Kohelet. His sensed of futility is indeed the modern day version of claiming that the system is rigged. Yet Kohelet is a man of great character, he is honest and comes to a powerful realization. The futility is the struggle to acquire, acquire money, fame and power. Peace is realized by learning to appreciate the blessing that God had provided. The ability to appreciate is a function of wisdom. Wisdom is function of being able to listen to those have experience. Finally, Kohelet, the Preacher, explains that ultimately, the ability to appreciate the moment, the ability to find peace comes from observing God’s commandments because the commandments are based upon finding holiness, in each moment. Donald Trump could learn a valuable lesson from Kohelet, and instead of thinking the system is rigged against him, maybe he should be a little more introspective like Kohelet. Maybe, then Trump will realize that his shortcoming are about him rather than everyone around him. Then again, maybe not, Trump doesn’t have character nor the intestinal fortitude that Kohelet does to enter upon such a journey.