August 6, 2020
Dear Mr. President,
Have you ever had a day where you don’t feel energetic and your mood is low? You must have days like this as everyone has, even Michelle Obama. I was so glad to read that she feels this way. It makes her seem so real and so relatable. She said out loud what so many of us are feeling even if we try to be hopeful about the future. The state of the nation is not good. The Donald Trump Virus is here and it’s not going away. It isn’t going away and it’s spreading. The economy is depressing even if the stock market isn’t. The uncertainty about schools, health and health care, about jobs, and money and the lack of enough, about rent payments and possible evictions, are all contributing to anxious mood. When Michelle Obama wrote about feeling depressed, she added the burden of how fragmented our social bonds have become. Racial inequality, social injustice, and unrest in our streets are reflections of the unrest in our society. In short, there are bad vibes everywhere.
I’ve been listening to some podcasts by one of my rabbis (teacher), Rob Dobrusin. They provide food for thought, some hope for the future and ideas to wrestle with and think deeply about. I think you already know that I am Jewish, and Jewish traditions and texts mean a lot to me. Since you already have your own religion and traditions, I’m sure you rely on them as well to guide you in behavior and thought. If that isn’t true, I suggest you open the book/books or ask a spiritual leader to meet with you to provide some moral and ethical guidance for the tough tasks you have to do.
One of the ancient rabbis, Rabbi Akiva, had a saying that is very well known. “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” That isn’t the end. He continues, “But, if I am only for myself, what am I?” There’s lots more here but let’s stop and think about this saying, especially the end of it. Life can’t only be about ourselves. We are part of a greater world. Another of my rabbis, Rabbi Caine, teaches that the entire universe is connected just like our bodies and all the cells that make up our bodies, are connected to a whole. He continues, when one part falls ill, other parts are affected. I think I am broadly saying this teaching and I hope for forgiveness for screwing it up if I didn’t get it all right. The take -away lesson for me is clear. What I say and do affects others and what others say and do affects me. When you speak and call people names or don’t tell the truth about what is really happening, it hurts people. When they call you names, it hurts you, but it also hurts people who love you. If everything is “them vs. us” then there is no hope for all of us.
We are in the weeks preceding the High Holidays when we have the opportunity to examine our lives and our thoughts and behaviors. We ask forgiveness for spiritual sins committed against G-d but sins against other people are only forgiven by the people we hurt. Also, if we are truly sorry for misdeeds, we change the behavior. Otherwise, we do the same thing over and over again. I will try hard not to speak disrespectfully or deliberately hurt some one’s feelings. Self judgement isn’t always easy, but it is worth asking yourself, “Am I being the best I can be?” I am not judging you, but how you behave and speak will be judged.
Remember, “if you are only for yourself, what are you?’