When there is a public catastrophe, who has spiritual responsibility? It is hard to think of the votes to repeal Obamacare as anything but a catastrophe in the making. In Judaism, we place the highest value on human life. And make no mistake, if these bills become law, tens of millions of people will lose their health insurance. And without health insurance, many of these people will die prematurely. As it says in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 4:5) “Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.”
It is so easy to blame others. I would like nothing better than to get on Facebook and Twitter to rage against the people who voted for this bill. I’d love to lash out at the people who voted for the politicians who supported this bill. I could write volumes, accusing various politicians and their supporters of being terrible people, and point to various verses in Torah to support my position. But that is not a spiritual answer to this crisis.
In his book “This Is Real And You Are Completely Unprepared,” Rabbi Alan Lew writes that when it comes to a catastrophe, “the only question worth asking about any recurring catastrophe, is this: what is my responsibility for it? How am I complicit in it? How can I prevent it from happening again?”
Therefore, while I did not vote for anyone responsible for the Obamacare rollback, I need to take personal responsibility. Thus, spiritual responsibility is very different than the types of leadership and personal responsibility that we usually talk about. I take responsibility for this situation in the following two ways.
Spiritual Responsibility for the Electoral College
I have never spoken out against the Electoral College. If we had a different system of government, in which the person who gets the most votes becomes President, we would not be in this situation. As a people, we made a vow of Never Again after the Holocaust. But after the 2000 election, when Al Gore won the popular vote, he was denied the Presidency because the supreme court stopped a recount. As a result, George Bush became President, invaded Iraq, and hundreds of thousands of people died. I never demanded an end to the Electoral College after Bush. As a result, we once again have a President who is not supported by the majority of Americans, and who is putting lives at risk.
Spiritual Responsibility for the gerrymandering
I have never taken a stand against gerrymandering, the process of setting up congressional districts to favor one political party over another. The problem is acute, and largely underreported. For example, according to the New York Times, in 2012, 1.5 million more people voted for Democrats in Congress, but the outcome was a 234 to 201 Republican majority. More recently, AP reported that in 2016, gerrymandering resulted in a comfortable Republican majority instead of a narrow one in the House. This fall the Supreme Court will look at whether Wisconsin’s redistricting plan is constitutional. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg has called this case the most important one the Supreme court will hear next term. And, Rabbi Michael Knopf argues that gerrymandering is against Jewish law. He explains that we are all descended from one person, and therefore all have equal value (Sanhedrin 4:5).
Spiritual Responsibility & Mussar Practice
Judaism and Mussar practice in particular, teaches that it is not enough to do no harm; rather we must proactively do good. When it comes to decisions like going to war, or removing healthcare from tens of millions of people, we need a system that awards power to the person with the most votes.
I don’t know if Obamacare will be repealed or not. It doesn’t matter, because as long as the Electoral College and gerrymandering are supported by rule of law, we remain at risk for a continued assault on the values we hold most dear. While the Republican Party is benefitting today from gerrymandering and the Electoral College, that could change in the future. If California and New York were to gerrymander the way Wisconsin and Pennsylvania did, our system would be worse, the the power would shift. We don’t want to live in that world. The Soul Trait of Truth teaches us to distance ourselves from a false matter, and the more we have gerrymandering, the farther we are from the truth.
As a Mussar community, we need to stand against this injustice, and demand an end to gerrymandering and the electoral college. I am firmly convinced that if our President and legislatures are more reflective of public opinion, we will have a government that works for the people instead of putting their lives at risk.
Ok, this is how I am taking spiritual responsibility for this situation. But Mussar, like all spiritual practices, is individual. How will you take spiritual responsibility? Please comment below.