Selected Sermon/Article
2000-08-12 Va'eschanan(Nachamu) by Rav Ze'ev Smason

Many years ago, a story was making the rounds about the first Jewish person elected to the Presidency of the United States. The most significant obstacle that President-elect Schwartz seemed to face, was a mother who didn't want to leave North Miami Beach for the January inauguration in Washington D.C. With much coaxing and encouraging, Mrs. Schwartz relented, and took her place at the inauguration seated between the Secretary of Defense, and Secretary of the Treasury. As her son approached the lectern, preparing to be sworn in by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Mrs. Schwartz turned to the Secretary of State and whispered, "Do you see that young man up there? His brother is a doctor!"

While such a scenario, of course, never took place, a wave of euphoria swept through the Jewish world last week with the surrealistic announcement that Sen. Joseph Lieberman was selected to be the running mate of Al Gore for VP of the US. A Jew as VP? A Jew a heartbeat away from the Presidency, and a likely candidate for the office of the Presidency in 2008? It boggles the mind. How should we feel? What should we be thinking? What type of direction does the Torah give us to understand and relate to this momentous occasion?

Undoubtedly, the sense of pride we feel at this accomplishment of one of 'our own' is first and foremost in our minds. This achievement of Joe Lieberman is a testimony to the blessing from God that this very fine man in particular has received. Senator Lieberman's appointment should also stir within us feelings of appreciation to the Almighty for the liberties and opportunities the Jewish community in America has. Life in this country has been good to us, and we should use this occasion to thank the Master of all blessings.

The selection of an orthodox Jew to a high honor is a Kiddush HaShem - a sanctification of God's name. Even Republicans have praised Joe Lieberman as a man of honesty, integrity and principle - and the worst that they've found to say about him is - he's a Democrat with Republican values! We've seen images over the past week of Sen. Lieberman leaving his home, and leaning to kiss the large mezzuzah on his door. Discussions of Kashrus and Shabbos fill the national airwaves - and the prospect of America and the world seeing up close in the months before the election a Jew who acts like a Jew, and lives like a Jew - not only makes our hearts swell with pride - but brings joy in anticipation of the dissolution of stereotypes in the minds of those who have erroneous impressions of the Torah way of life. As a news commentator said this past week, "This will be the most widely covered and televised Sukkot, in history."

Comedian George Carlin once said, "In every silver lining, there's a dark cloud". Pessimism for the sake of pessimism is never in order; I do believe however, that there are two issues of concern regarding the Lieberman nomination that need to be discussed.

As Jews and as Americans, a question that we must raise is: Will a Jewish politician be effective when it comes to Jewish issues? Historically, those who have been amongst the least enthusiastic and effective in advocating issues important to our community have been.....Jewish politicians on the national stage. When the decision was being weighed to bomb German supply lines to concentration camps during WW2, it was the Jewish politicians in FDR's inner circle, fearing charges of 'Dual Loyalty' who were most resistant to advising the President to take action that would have saved so many Jewish lives. Let me state it in the following way; would you prefer a Jewish politician as President in 1948, weighing whether America should endorse the fledgling State of Israel - or a Harry Truman? Moshe Dayan credited the actions of Richard Nixon with saving Israel during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Would a Jewish American President have had the political independence to have done the same?

I personally find quite disturbing Senator Lieberman's refusal to support a call for clemency for Jonathan Pollard. In the case of Jonathan Pollard, Senator Lieberman has been rigidly firm in petitioning President Clinton NOT to grant clemency to Pollard. According to a JUSTICE FOR POLLARD release, August 8.2000, we are told, "Although it is all part of the open record of the case, Lieberman refuses to acknowledge the lack of due process, the judicial errors, the broken plea agreement, the use of secret evidence, the use of false evidence, and the grossly disproportionate sentence Pollard received...In a private conversation with Jonathan Pollard's father, Senator Lieberman indicated that his primary concern with the case was THE ISSUE OF DUAL LOYALTY AND THE FEAR THAT THE PERCEPTION OF HIS OWN LOYALTY TO AMERICA MIGHT BE CALLED INTO QUESTION." Helen Freedman, Executive Director, Americans For a Safe Israel, writes:

The conclusion here is that perception takes precedence over justice. Will Lieberman, like so many public Jews before him, consider the dual loyalty question to be more important than the rightness of an issue having to do with Jews, and Israel, for fear of how it might affect his career?" A Jewish President and or Vice President may not necessarily be the full-fledged blessing to the Jewish community that some anticipate.

The second concern I'd like to raise is based upon a verse we read last week in Parshas Devarim, where the Torah states (2:3) "enough of your circling this mountain; turn yourselves tzfonah (northward)" The Kli Yakar writes that the word 'tzfonah' can also be rendered 'hidden,' from the root 'tzafoon.' Accordingly, HaShems message was 'remain hidden'; meaning, that if a Jew is blessed with good fortune, he should keep it hidden from the other nations. Why arouse their jealousy and wrath? Developing this thought, the Kli Yakar complains that the Jews in his time were calling attention to their lavish homes and exquisite clothing. Such flaunting of wealth only causes envy and hatred. R' Elchonon Wasserman explains Klal Yisrael's being referred to a single sheep among 70 wolves in a similar manner. If a sheep was grazing among 70 wolves, would it not try to make itself as Inconspicuous as possible? It certainly would not bleat shrilly, to taunt and incite the wolves. This isn't a 'galus complex,' but rather, a 'galus code of behavior.'

The Golden Age of Spanish Jewry pales in comparison to the liberties that the Jewish community has been granted in America, and the success we've achieved in our relatively brief stay on this continent. Yet: remaining inconspicuous in Galus is the Torah approach, and we can only pray that the appointment of Senator Lieberman carries with it only brocha for his family and the Jewish community at large.

We thank God for having lived to see this monumental occasion, so ripe with opportunity for Jewish pride, and the sanctification of God's Holy Name. Our prayer is that the Almighty bestow blessing and wisdom upon Senator Lieberman in the months ahead in his campaign, and, perhaps, in a term as the first Jewish Vice President of the United States of America.