This past Saturday night, and for the 48 hours that followed on into Monday, I had the same sickening feeling in my stomach that I a little over fifteen years ago with the 9/11 terrorist attacks and its immediate aftermath. While in the movie, my cellphone vibrated, a New York Times breaking news stated that a bomb had exploded in the Chelsea section of New York City. I watched and listened to the news all day on Sunday, and on Monday. No, thankfully this was not 9/11 all over again. Because this is an election year, as the investigation unfolded, the story became political and in a sense a political referendum on the Hilary Clinton’s candidacy and Donald Trump’s candidacy. Perhaps the most ridiculous, dangerous and saddest comment came from Donald Trump during a rally in Fort Meyers, Florida, “If you choose Donald Trump, these problems are going to go away, far far greater than anyone would think, believe me.” Really? Is he serious or just speaking in Trump hyperbole? “If you choose Donald Trump, these problems are going away….” I get it. All I have to do is pull the lever for Trump and poof, no more threat of terrorism, no more fear of terrorism, no more anxiety caused by terrorism. Just pulling that little lever in the voting booth will make all the trouble in the world go away. As ridiculous as Trump’s comments were, something incredibly sad simultaneously took place there at that rally. It is something that takes place everywhere Trump speaks. Those in attendance clap, cheer, nod their heads and actually believe him and his words. They lap it up as someone who had been in a desert without water for days and days. They cheer and scream and look as if they have been shown some type of light even if that light is the darkness of hatred, fear and ignorance.
This week's Parsha, is Ki Tavoh. For the past several Parshiot, Moshe has been listing and explaining all the precepts and laws. Last week's Parsha, and the first part of Ki Tavoh explains the rewards. We will inherit the land; we will keep the land. Our enemies will be rendered weak. We will be fruitful and multiply. However the second half of the Parshah explains all the curses that would befall us if we neglect to observe these laws. Every curse, of course, is the diametric opposite the previous blessings. So if we were promised bountiful harvests and many children, then our curse will be drought, famine, and bareness. Traditionally, the Aliyot that contain the curses are read in a softer voice. However as horrible as these curses are, we must understand that it is up to us. We can either follow these laws or not, and as a result we will bear the consequences of our actions. This is not necessarily a bad lesson for us as well as our children to learn. We are responsible for our actions, and we must bear responsibility for the consequences of those actions.
One of the curses is most poignant in light of listening to Trump. Arur Mashgeh Iveir Ba'Derech, Va'Amar Kol Ha'Am Amen - Accursed is one who causes a blind person to go astray on the road. And the entire nation said 'Amen" (Deut 27:18). If we read this literally then we are talking about a guide or a seeing-eye dog that would lead the blind astray. However this curse is symbolic. We know that Torah is a light and the word Derech (way) is usually in combination with the Way of the Lord (God's Laws). On a metaphorical level, the curse is upon those leaders of a community that causes the less knowledgeable to go astray. If that knowledge causes those who are blind (re: those who are in the dark or without light) to go astray, then that leader should be cursed. Implicit to that statement is that the one who causes the blind to go astray sees the light, has knowledge and teaches or guides the community away from God.
Our Talmudic Sages offer an Agadah about the teachers/Rabbis who were the leaders of their communities. "If there are two teachers, one who covers much ground but is not exact, and one who does not cover much ground but is exact, Rav Dimi b. Nehardea maintained that the one who is exact and does not cover much ground is to be appointed. The reason? A mistake once implanted (in the mind or in behavior) remains [a mistake]. (Talmud Baba Batrah 21a-b). The Talmudic sages essentially understood the first rule in education. It is terribly difficult to undo that which has already been incorrectly taught. It appears that the Talmudic Sages also understood quite a bit about Presidential campaign politics as well.