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Why Give Presidential Candidates a Forum at BRS?

on Friday, January 27 2012. Posted by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg
One of the nice things about living in Palm Beach County is the impact our votes have and the difference they make. Indeed, the entire 2000 Presidential election was likely decided by voters not only in our county, but perhaps even in our district. Many analysts and commentators go even further in saying that due to our disproportionally high voter turnout, it is specifically the Jewish vote in Florida that makes a critical difference.

Not surprisingly, therefore, each election cycle generates interest from the candidates and their campaigns to address our community and to use BRS as a venue to address the larger Jewish community. In the last election alone, Presidential Candidate Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Senator Joseph Lieberman as a surrogate for Senator John McCain and Congressman Jerry Nadler as a surrogate of then Senator Barak Obama, all spoke at BRS. In keeping with our record of opening our Shul to all candidates from both parties equally, without endorsing any one of them, this Monday at 9am, Boca Raton Synagogue, in partnership with the Orthodox Union (OU) will host Presidential Candidate, Senator Rick Santorum.

Some may wonder and even challenge, shouldn’t a Shul be apolitical? Why would we provide a platform for candidates to campaign? While I respect this valid perspective, I humbly disagree for a few reasons.

Rav Moshe Feinstein saw voting as a halachik imperative. He wrote that given the incredible blessing, gift and opportunity that this great country provides our people, and our ability to not only practice religion, but thrive religiously, we must participate in the democratic process as a form of hakaras ha’tov, gratitude and appreciation. One can assume that Rav Moshe would not only mandate voting, but being well informed, educated and knowledgeable about the candidates from whom we will make our choice. And so firstly, hosting candidates for elected office provides an important opportunity to address our questions, concerns and issues directly to the candidates and/or their surrogates.

Secondly, candidates for the office of President each represent the potential to hold the highest office in the land and with it yield great influence and power. The possibility to forge a relationship and rapport with the potential President is not one that we should disregard. By hosting an individual and providing a venue, should they be elected, we increase the possibility for our concerns and our voices to continue to be heard.

Thirdly, there is something much more fundamental than the first two essentially practical reasons. Rashi in the last few week’s parshiyos and the Ibn Ezra on this week’s tell us something remarkable. When Moshe addressed Pharaoh, he did so with great respect, reverence and deference. This, despite the fact that Pharaoh was an evil despot who sought to annihilate, exterminate and eliminate the Jewish people and had already begun to act on his promise to do so. According to these commentaries, Moshe continued to show honor and dignity to this man, not because he personally deserved or earned it, but rather because the position of authority and the seat that he held as Emperor demanded it.

Moshe understood something that tragically is often misunderstood today. One can disagree with the individual while at the same time showing respect, dignity and honor to the office and position. To deprecate Pharaoh and disrespect his position of authority would ultimately trickle down and create a general dismissal and disregard for all authority including that of the Almighty, from those watching him carefully, namely the Jewish people. Therefore, while Moshe did everything in his power to stop Pharaoh as an individual, he never compromised on the veneration he displayed to the position Pharaoh held.

In my opinion, when a person who will potentially fill the position of President and sit in the Oval Office asks to address your community, their potential position itself demands that you say yes. As the mishna in Avos teaches, when we honor others, particularly those that deserve our honor, we are honored as a result.

It is for this reason that I submit to you that Boston Bruins Goalie and MVP of last year’s Stanley Cup Finals, Tim Thomas was incorrect and discourteous when he opted this week to skip a White House ceremony with President Obama to mark his team’s championship season. He wrote, “I believe the federal government has grown out of control, threatening the rights, liberties, and property of the people.” There is a time to disagree with policies and people, and there is a time to show honor and respect to the Presidency.

Whatever our personal views or party allegiances, maintaining our sense of reverence for positions of authority, regardless of who holds them, will bring dignity, grace and virtue to all of us and our children.

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