Rabbi Gellman: Our Prejudices and the Election

For people of faith, the most important question in this election is not "Who is he?" but "Who are we?" The most important question in this election, which can never be answered but which we must try to answer is, "To what degree has bigotry shaped our vote?" This is not just a question about racism and Barack Obama. It's a question about sexism and Hillary Clinton. It's a question about ageism and John McCain.

This is not the kind of question that pollsters can ask. Questions like, "Are you a bigot?" do not produce honest or reliable answers. This is a question we must ask of ourselves before our naked conscience or before God.

What is at stake is everything. Are we truly capable of judging others by the content of their character? Have we actually let go of the accumulated prejudices of the past and the new prejudices of our own time? Our vote in this election can be a self-reflective and teachable moment. We can use this political event as a moral event, an occasion to honestly reflect on the level of prejudice we have allowed to corrode our characters. If we look deeply within ourselves, then the election in November will yield not only a new president but also, in the words of the prophet Ezekiel, a new heart: "And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh."

So how do we look within ourselves and discover the truth? Do we have hearts of stone or hearts of flesh? For the overt haters among us the truth is clear, but haters are not generally self-reflective people. There is, however, a comfort in the overt prejudice of those who do not even try to hide their hate. They name what they hate, and their hate brands them and isolates them. If you are one of those people who actually admits to being unable to vote for a person of color or a woman or someone eligible for Social Security, I beg you to reflect on your brokenness. What happened to you? Were you taught to be prejudiced by beloved family members? Can't you separate their poison from their love? You must heal yourself in order for America to be healed.

However, the self-declared bigots are not the real problem. The ones who chill my soul and shrink my hope for our national comity are those "respectable people" who disguise their venality under the cloak of rationality. People like this are also morally broken but have not yet summoned the courage to face the truth. For those of you who are worried that you might be harboring this moral virus, here are some simple questions you can ask yourself: Do you have close friends of a different race? Do you relate to powerful women differently than you relate to powerful men? Do you mostly respect old people or do you pity them? Do you tell jokes that would hurt you if you were the brunt of the joke? (If I hear another priest-and-rabbi joke where the rabbi is a doofus, I am going to blow!) Looking deeply into your own soul requires great honesty and courage. I find that courage in prayer and community, but you can find it anywhere your soul can open to the truth of your life.

A story: Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav was walking down the street one day trailed by many of his students. Suddenly he stopped, looked across the street and asked his students, "Who is that walking there across the street?" They looked and said to him, "Rebbe, it's no one. That's just Moshele, the water drawer, walking across the street. He's nobody." Reb Nachman shouted at them, "You are no longer my students until you can look across any street and see any person and say to me, 'O that is the image of God walking there'."

America will be healed and America will be whole when we can answer the question, "Who are you voting for?" with this answer: "O, I am voting for the image of God who happens to be running for the office of president of the United States."