Divre Harav – January 2011

It is easy to fall into the trap of negativity.  Recently, after several colleagues shared some of the more discouraging moments of their rabbinate, another colleague responded with some advice from a member of his congregation, an oncologist.  He said that it would be impossible for him to function if he spent too much emotional energy thinking about the majority of his patients who don’t survive. He focuses on the ten percent or so who make a full recovery.

I’m thinking about this now, as our country is welcoming to Washington DC a new set of Representatives and Senators, most of whom gained office because of a general sense of dissatisfaction with the status quo — the pace of recovery from the economic downturn, and a perceived, if not actual, lack of action addressing the high rate of unemployment.

Our politicians talk about reaching across the aisle and working together towards a common goal, but when a compromise is made, many to the left and the right accuse the moderate centrists of selling out to the other side and betraying the values and principles of their party.

I’m thinking about Representative Justin Amash, who has some pretty big shoes to fill as he takes the seat once held by Vern Ehlers, Paul Wolpe and Gerald Ford (although in his day it was the fifth, rather than the third, congressional district).  Some in the Jewish community are concerned that Mr. Amash’s Palestinian roots might affect his support for Israel.  It is in in our interest, however, as Jews, supporters of Israel, and residents of the third congressional district, to cultivate a good relationship with Mr. Amash.

AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, is a non-partisan organization devoted to strengthen the United State’s relationship with Israel.  They work with every member of congress, regardless of party affiliation.  They educate on issues relating to the security and development of Israel and encourage visits to Israel.

They understand that antagonizing our elected officials is not a good way to move them to our side.  Rather, like good parenting, it is more effective to focus on the positive, to praise the successes rather than condemn the failures.

As we welcome the 112th Congress to Washington DC, let us resolve to focus on the successes, not the failures.  Let us be slow to condemn, and quick to praise.  Let us not demonize the opposition.  Let us stick to our principles, but respect those who adhere to a conflicting set of principles.  As the Talmud teaches about the academies of Shammai and Hillel, Hillel was honored and praised for teaching the opinions of Shammai before he taught his own.  Let us be like Hillel, embracing the person on the other side of the aisle with love, rather than casting him out with suspicion.

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