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#ReformJewsVote: Make Your Voice Heard on November 6th

#ReformJewsVote: Make Your Voice Heard on November 6th

Sign on the window of a polling place

The three Torah scrolls in our synagogue’s ark are very precious, which is why, every year, we bring in a professional sofer, a Torah scribe, to make minor repairs to each one. Doing this helps maintain the “kosher” status of each scroll.

According to tradition, there are approximately 600,000 letters in the Torah – and that number is not accidental. According to the Torah itself, there were 600,000 Jews who left Egypt. In the sixteenth century in Sefat in the land of Israel, the great Jewish mystic, or Kabbalist, Rabbi Chaim Vital took this teaching and did something very special with it.

Rabbi Vital maintained that every single person who left Egypt had their own letter in the Torah. In his view, every Jewish soul alive has their own letter in the Torah.

In 1941 in the Warsaw Ghetto, more than a half million Jews were imprisoned in a very small geographical area. Each day, people died of exposure, disease, and starvation. It was at that time that a great rabbinical leader in the ghetto, Rabbi Kalonymus Kalmish Shapira, wrote a book, now known as Conscious Community.

For him, in that situation of stress, a conscious community was a community wherein everyone felt a connection to both God and to the other members of the community. A conscious community is a community whose individuals having opened their souls to the presence of God and trusts that God will guide them as a community. This teaching was his response to the terror of the Warsaw Ghetto.

Thank God that we do not live in such a situation today – but the teachings of Rabbi Chaim Vital about the letters of the Torah and of Rabbi Kalonymus Kalmish Shapira about the idea of conscious community are both profoundly relevant as election season approaches.

The Hebrew alphabet comprises 22 letters – but in the Torah, each of the 600,000 letters has its own place and contribution, not only in the writing of the Torah but also in the strengthening of the community. From this teaching, we might learn that it is critical for all of us to vote in the upcoming election. As each letter is important, so is each vote, as each person is a potential agent of change.

Our democracy is strongest when everyone can and does participate, regardless of party or politics. If we truly wish to become involved in the sacred act of tikkun olam, repair of our broken world, the act of voting is essential. Only in this way can we promote policies based on our values of justice, compassion, and peace.

Rabbi Yitzhak taught, “A ruler is not to be appointed unless the community is first consulted” (Talmud, Brakhot 55a). Voting is the way in which our community is consulted as to who our leaders will be.

My congregation has set a collective goal of becoming a 100% voting community. Think about it: A Torah is at its fullness when all of its letters are present. How much the more so for our community when it comes to voting? Going forward, we aim to vote at 100%, showing that we are a truly conscious community.

We believe that this act of voting is sacred. Here you’ll find a prayer for voting in the midterm elections, written by Reform liturgist Alden Solovy. Take this prayer with you to the polls this year and, as you are waiting in line to vote, read it to yourself.

Finally, please remember that as the Mishnah states, “Lo alecha hamlacha ligmor, v’lo atah ben chorin l’hivatel mimena” – “You are not expected to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it.” In our case, that means voting on November 6th.

Check out the #ReformJewsVote hashtag on Twitter and share your post-voting selfie with us there. Visit rac.org/cec to learn more about additional civic engagement work and opportunities.

Rabbi Fred Guttman is the senior rabbi at Temple Emanuel in Greensboro, N.C. He is a dual citizen of the United States and Israel and served in an Israel combat unit in the 1980s.

Rabbi Fred Guttman
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