Like an advancing fog, this vanquished sense of security and peacefulness has pervaded many lives since the current regime ascended to power. A range of health professionals, from psychotherapists to acupuncturists, are reporting a precipitous increase in patient visits. People are complaining about anxiety and restlessness and struggling with bouts of depression. It’s quite unprecedented—that the national and global situations would impact on personal well-being so intrusively.
No American, not even the president, is larger than America itself.
The Jewish people follow a hallowed, calendared cycle of Torah readings week-to-week. We are presently reading and studying the Book of Exodus—the story of the world’s first freedom march as the Hebrews quit Egypt and trekked to the Promised Land. Jews and Christians know very well that Pharaoh and his people were subjected to ten very hard Plagues before bitterly acceding to this.
Ironically, this past week—as the frantic pace of federal outrages was accumulating—the portion of Torah examined included the account of the Ninth Plague. This was the imposition of darkness in and through Egypt for three long days and nights. After infestations by lice and frogs, the Nile turning into blood, and other gruesome nuisances, the plague of darkness brought with it a particularly ominous and deeply nocturnal reality: there comes a time when darkness is not a matter of day or night. It is a question of human vision.
The rabbinic sages offered much commentary about this plague of darkness. This was “a darkness that could be felt,” they asserted. It was not just the absence of light—which can be dispelled by simply lighting a fire. You could physically touch this darkness and it pushed against you; it was a darkness of the deepest nature.
One rabbi wrote: “This darkness was so dense that people could not see each other. This is the worst of all darknesses: when people are unable to ‘see’ their neighbors, that is note their distress and help them.” It was also observed that when this kind of darkness seeps into society, people don’t want to see others.
This is all prophetic: here we are, struggling through such times. The people in the two Americas (left/right, blue/red, Democrats/Republicans) don’t see each other in this palpable darkness. And they don’t want to see each other. The two sides are not in communication; they each consider the other as unworthy or even un-American; they have dismissed one another as contemptible and without standing as dignified human beings. This is a darkness that literally rubs against you and that seeps through your skin and into your soul.
We need to regroup as Americans and recapture the spirit of our Founding Fathers: these men hardly agreed on everything and carried some personal animosities among themselves. But they never lost sight of the prevailing truth—the dream of America as the greatest experiment in democracy on this planet superseded all individual rivalries. This compelled them to work together respectfully and with the protocol of civility and thus they carved out the original Articles of Confederation and, soon after, the more unifying Constitution of the United States.
Creativity heals the soul. If you’re unhappy with the darkness, create some light with peaceful protest, reasoned petitions to government officials, or acts of social service in your community or private life. If you’re supportive of the administration, show leadership by listening and responding to the concerns and pleas of those who exercise their constitutional right and obligation to dissent. No American, not even the president, is larger than America itself.
We in the Jewish community know that our backbone Talmud—a library of social discourse—is essentially an extended argument among scholars about how to conduct one’s self in this life. But the opposing sages in each dispute never disrespected or dehumanized each other. Christians are well-acquainted with the healing and inclusive dissertations of Jesus. We Americans, inheritors of an enlightened Republic that has always repaired itself, need only to look into our spiritual traditions to rediscover the path to deference and common courtesy.
No one has to agree to everything; everyone has to agree on one thing: the Bible we all share begins with a darkness-dispelling declaration from heaven: “Let there be light!” Let’s open our eyes and at least see each other again.