One of my favorite holidays is Sukkot—possibly because I appreciate that Sukkot represents a change in season and in mood. My birthday usually coincides with Sukkot, and back in the day, I became a Bat Mitzvah during the holiday. Sukkot is known as the “season of our rejoicing,” and these days, we can all welcome a reason to rejoice. The word sukkah means booth, referring to the temporary dwellings that the Torah commands us to live in during the holiday, commemorating our wandering in the desert and the harvest. This year, in particular, the sukkah also reminds me, that as we come through the High Holiday period, pretty soon it will also be time to think about another type of booth—the voting booth and Election Day.
Rabbi Yitzhak taught that “A ruler is not to be appointed unless the community is first consulted.” This ethic of political participation has guided us to participate in the electoral process. At stake are vital political, economic and moral issues of concern to all Americans.
The Talmud asserts that it is our duty to create and support our government and it is one of the few obligations that Jewish law recognizes for all people. As we know, government is important. To Maimonides, its purpose was to ensure public order. To others, the purpose extends to include all social welfare, public safety, health, social equity and the rule of law. The fabric of modern life in this world requires wise, effective and representatively accountable government.
As members of the Jewish community, we value the power of the collective. Collective action guides our operating principles to be agents of change, to actively repair the world, engaging in tikkun olam. The prophet Jeremiah taught that wherever we find ourselves, we are to engage deeply in our communities in order “to seek the welfare of the city” and work toward a better world.
It is through government that Jews fulfill their civic duty to our communities. Most of us think about the Jewish vote in terms of Israel and Mideast policy, but the real Jewish issue is any government’s effectiveness to accomplish its public responsibilities. Government’s agenda of public health, safety, social policy, environmental protection and more is a “Jewish issue.” Voting is one of the most important acts of public service, a chance to give voice to our values.
Judaism teaches that “You do not need to finish the work, but you are not free to desist from it.” Judaism’s value of collective action mandates Jews to participate. Please do not to stay away on Election Day. That is the Jewish commitment to our tradition and values – whatever our personal politics or leanings may be.