America is Falling Apart, But It's OK

 It's been brewing for a while, but the events of this week underscore a sad milestone in the path America seems to be on.  The majority of Americans, on both sides of the political aisle, believe that America is heading in the wrong direction.  Each side blames the other with evidence and rationale to explain their beliefs.  

As Jews, we aren't loyal to either political side.  The Previous Rebbe once said about politics, "Nothing can exist without the truth of Torah.  Whatever truth exists in each political side is from Torah."

I've been wanting to write this idea down for a while now, but have been waiting for the right time.  Hopefully that time is now.  Many political systems and empires have achieved the status of world power, from the Babylonians, to the Romans, to the Turks, the British, and for the last 300 years, America.  America has been a tremendously benevolent country, and has created unprecedented prosperity.  However, empires' status as world power historically lasts around 300 years, so for now to not be the beginning of the end of America's run, would be defying historic precedent.  With most world powers, the downfall stemmed from internal corrosion, not external conquest, and this seems to be what we're witnessing with our own eyes.

In Torah, the litmus test of truth (אמת) is continuity.  Truth lasts forever (שפת אמת תכון לעד), and there are many Torah teachings connecting truth with continuity & consistency.  Additionally, truth is not black and white.  Many things that we call true are not 100% true, and many things we call untrue, have some truth in them.  Accordingly, the continuity of any ideology or technique corresponds with its level of truth.  Even someone as evil as Hitler (may his name be erased) had some truth, but since the amount of truth in his ideas was so miniscule, his run was very short.  On the flip side, America's foundation has much truth in it, which is why its brought so much good to the world and lasted so long.  However, since it is not the ultimate truth, it can't last forever.  Only something 100% true will last forever, and the only thing 100% true is Torah.

If I were to ask you to sum up the foundation of America in one or two words, what words would come to mind?  For me, it would be "Freedom" & "Liberty."  The founding fathers of America came from places where they did not have the freedom to make their own choices and worship according to their beliefs.  After coming to America, they promised themselves that this new country would enshrine the freedoms they so longed for, in a way that they could never be taken away.

This is the purpose of the Constitution & Bill of Rights.  Freedom of speech, religion, the right to bear arms, and the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are the bedrock of America. 

What does Torah say about this? 

Before I tell you my understanding, let's do a little exercise and take a closer look at some of the hot political debates du jour, to see if we can find patterns. 

•  Hate speech- Which right wins?  The right to freedom of speech, which protects even offensive speech, or the right to equality in the person who might be offended by that speech? The same applies for religion which sometimes offends, or even more, infringes on the right to equality for other races, genders, sexual orientations etc.
•  2nd Amendment-Right to bear arms- We have a right to bear arms, but we also have a right to be safe.  What happens when gun violence is trending up?  Can the government infringe on individual's rights to bear arms in the name of keeping everyone safe?

•  Health care & College- Is it the right of every American to have healthcare and higher education, or is the right of citizens to keep more of the money they earn without paying higher taxes?
• Abortion-  What trumps what?  The right of a woman to control her body, or the right of an unborn baby to live?

Do you see the pattern? Every single political debate is about conflicting rights, and each side wants to ensure their their rights protected.

For now, let’s stick to the issue at large of freedom, rather than the individual debates.  Winston Churchill famously said, “Democracy is the worst form of governance, besides for all the others.”  What does Torah have to say about freedom and democracy?  

A "right” for one person is inevitably a “responsibility” for someone else.  For example, if healthcare is a right for you, it's a responsibility for me to provide it.  In marriage, both the husband and wife have rights to money, sexual needs, and fidelity.  However, the ketubah, or Torah marriage contract, doesn’t mention any rights. Each of these items are listed as responsibilities.  The husband has financial responsibility to his wife, and she has financial responsibility to him. He has sexual responsibilities to her, and she has sexual responsibilities to him etc.  

In other words, Torah doesn’t give us rights. We have responsibilities.  At the same, Torah itself says, אין בן חורין אלא מי שעוסק בתורה-  (Torah) responsibilities are the only path to freedom.  A society founded on true responsibilities is the only one that can last forever.

The unintended consequences of a society built on rights, is what we're seeing in front of our eyes.  The founding fathers took responsibilities for granted, because that's all the world knew.  These freedoms were intended to rescue the world from the corruption of responsibilities, namely, kings abusing their power.  What they didn't realize, is that after 300 years, rights could also become corrupted.

We live in a culture where people on both sides of the political aisle are obsessed with their rights, and this is why America is going down.  Political positions are getting more extreme, political progress is slowing down & moral compasses are definitely going down the tubes, all because people want more rights.  This is not a small problem that can be fixed with a bipartisan vote in congress.  This goes all the way back to the essence of the Constitution & Bill of Rights, and is enshrined in their very names (Bill of Rights)! 

The Constitution & Bill of Rights are 95% true and that was good enough to last 300 years, but I think it's time to find a system that won't go astray.  I have some thoughts about how to go about this, but I'll save that for next week. 

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If you know anyone who is looking for a political adviser or media contributor, I'm open to interviews, as long as I don't have to leave my post in Temecula (lol;), which is the most important thing to Natanya & me.

Shabbat Shalom, 

Yonasan Abrams


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