Are We Swallowing Our Neighbor Alive?

I’m not thrilled that the election results are delayed but it does give us the opportunity to recognize that we are fortunate to live in a country where the results are not decided by a dictator nor by a mob. We each voted and every single vote will be counted.

And regardless of the winner, I will follow the guidance of Jewish teachings, to “Pray for the welfare of the government”.

In the Mishnah, Ethics of our Fathers, we are taught, “Pray for the welfare of the government, for were it not for the fear it inspires, every man would swallow his neighbor alive”.

It seems to be a strange place for such guidance, as the book of Ethics is filled with moral guidance and behaviors that go “beyond the letter of the law”, yet this teaching seems pretty basic and universal, not just for the pious.

Additionally, the verbiage is quite strange. Men might kill or harm each other, but “swallow his neighbor alive”?!

The Rebbe suggests that the verbiage is the very point of the teaching- To “swallow our neighbor alive”, means to completely dismiss his point of view. He is there, he has thoughts, he has ideas and he has his own perspective- he is alive!- but but in today’s “cancel culture” he has been swallowed up by his neighbor.

The Rebbe also suggests that the solution to this problem is in the first and last parts of this same passage.

When we “pray for the welfare of the government”, it is the Kingdom of Heaven that we must bear in mind. We must always remain cognizant of the fact that is G-d’s world that we inhabit. Our view and our neighbor’s view, and many other diverse points of view can and should coexist.

And then he points out that the ending of the passage, provides a litmus test as to where our intolerance is coming from? Is it really G-d’s world that I am defending, or is it my own. ego and point of view that I am protecting?

The passage continues to say, “if two sit together and there are words of Torah [spoken] between them, then G-d’s spirit abides among them”.

If our Facebook and twitter feed is only a safe place for those who agree with us, then it might be that it is our own ego that is being defended. But if you can discuss morality together — ”two who sit together”- and not just speak, but also listen to what the others have to say, then your motivation comes from a good place- it is G-d’s world you are protecting.

Whatever the election results may be, may it lead us to a time when we will all sit together and may G-d’s spirit abide among us!

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom.

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