As the Shofar sounds "Awake!"
America Awakens to Profound Election Issues
In the wake of last night’s debate, the task of The Shalom Center is neither to urge you to support one candidate or the other, nor to claim “who won.” It is, rather, to bring some spiritual and religious yardsticks to bear on the issues that surfaced last night and in other moments of this election campaign.
From that perspective, the most valuable aspect of the debate was that it addressed a crucial question about the nature of American society, or any society for that matter: Taxes.
That issue erupted in what seemed to be two distinct arenas: the personal behavior of the candidates, and social policy. But the two turned out to be one --- it became clear that indeed “the personal is political.”
Personally: Should candidates publish their tax returns and reveal how much taxes they actually pay? Indeed, should they pay taxes at all?
Social policy: Should the ultra-wealthy pay more in taxes to support good schools for all children, pure water supplies , and the creation of well-paying jobs to repair the rotting US infrastructure -- or should the ultra-wealthy have their taxes radically reduced on the assumption they will then hire more workers?
In the personal exchange, it became clear that in some years, one of the candidates had paid no Federal income taxes at all, despite what he claims to be immense wealth and income. His response: “That makes me smart.”
So the personal and political cohere -- the ultimate in reducing taxes for the rich is that they pay zero taxes.
What does the biblical tradition say about this?
“When you have entered the land that Yahhhh, the Holy One of Blessing Who Breathes all Life --your God -- is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it, 2 take some of the first-fruits of all that you grow from the soil of the land the Lord your God is giving you and put them in a basket. Then go to the place the InterBreath of Life your God will choose as a dwelling for the Sacred Name 3 and say to the priest in office at the time, ‘I declare today before the Holy InterBreath of Life Who brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; that now I bring the first-fruits of the soil that You have given me.’
“When you have finished setting aside a tenth of all your produce in the third year, the year of the tithe, you shall give it to [those who have no land of their own] –-- the Levite, the foreigner, the orphan and the widow, so that they may eat in your settlements and be satisfied. Then say to the Interbreath of Life your God: “I have removed from my house the sacred portion and have given it to the Levite, the foreigner, the orphan and the widow, according to all you commanded. I have not turned aside from your commands nor have I forgotten any of them.” (Deut 26: 1-3, 11-12)
In a similar vein, there arose last night in a personal context the question how employers and especially the rich should treat their workers. One candidate suggested that repeated bankruptcies and failures to pay workers their agreed-on wages was disreputable. The other candidate replied: “That’s business.”
Like the tax question, this “personal” disagreement raises the same questions about social policy.
What says the Torah? --
“On the very same day you must pay him his wages, not allowing the sun to set without paying him; for he is poor, and sets his heart upon it: lest he cry against you to the Interbreath of Life and it be sin in you.” (Deut 24:15)
The saddest aspect of the debate was that it failed to address in any serious way the greatest danger facing America, all human society, and the entire web of life in which the human species emerged and has grown – the danger of climate chaos resulting from the overburning of oil, coal, and unnatural gas. If any issue cries put for the Shofar to sound "Awake!" not inside synagogues but in the fields and forests, it is this. Yet it received almost no attention last night. Barely a sentence from each candidate.
The issue has, however, arisen at other times during the election campaign: Is action by human beings the cause of the danger, and can human action choose whether to heal the problem or make it worse? Or is the whole climat issue a hoax, even spawned by Chuna to undermine the US economy?
Here is what the Torah speaks on the relationship of human action and earthy abundance or disaster:
“The land [or “Earth”] shall observe a Sabbath for YHWH/Yahhh, the Interbreath of Life. Six years you may sow your field and six years you may prune your vineyard and gather in the yield. But in the seventh year the land shall have a Sabbath of complete rest, a Sabbath of YHWH/Yahhh, the Interbreath of Life: you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. It shall be a year of complete rest for the Earth.” (Leviticus 25:3-5)
“If you follow these My laws and faithfully observe My ways of making connection, I will grant your rains in their season, so the Earth will yield its produce and the trees of the field their fruit. (Lev. 26:3-4)
But if you disobey Me [by not letting the land rest], I will lay your cities in ruin, I will make the land desolate. And you I will scatter among the nations. Your land shall become a desolation and your cities a ruin.
“Then shall the land make up for its Sabbath years. Throughout the time that it is desolate, it shall observe the rest that it could not observe in your Sabbath years while you were dwelling upon it.” (Leviticus 26:31-35)
This election, perhaps more than any since the election of 1860, forces us to choose between two radically different visions of the American future and the future of Mother Earth. The world our children will live in. They are watching, listening, wondering.
During the next week, we will explore some other issues that have arisen during the campaign in the same way. It is not our intention to tell you which candidates to vote for this November, but rather to give you a values-clarification overview that may help you decide for yourself and/or influence what you say to others. Rather than jumping to a conclusion, let these texts settle inside you, becoming part of an interior conversation. Discuss them with others. Reflect some more.