Isaiah says, “Vote!”
Yom Kippur Morning Haftarah Drash 5779
Rabbi David S. Widzer
In just a moment, we’ll hear the rousing words of the Prophet Isaiah. He preached at a time of discord and tumult, a time of social division and enmity, a time when the elite had gone astray after false gods and the righteous suffered injustice. His message to us on this Yom Kippur morning is clear. It is not enough, says Isaiah, to fast on the fast days, to offer prayers or sacrifices. If we want to live as God intended, if we want to follow in God’s ways, we have to put our values into action in the real world. Stop oppressing workers! Unlock the shackles of injustice! Undo the fetters of bondage! Share your bread with the hungry! Bring the homeless poor into your midst! Clothe the naked! Do not hid from your responsibility! Isaiah implored us: ritual acts without ethical actions were not fitting for God. Our deeds must match our words in expressing our values.
If Isaiah were here today, were he alive at this moment, I think he would add one more ethical act to his litany of the required activities of justice. “Vote! Vote!” he would say, “Participate in civic discourse! Raise your ballot like a Shofar, sound a call through its use! With ink and with pen, with electronic touchscreens and paper punches, with ‘I voted’ stickers and wizened poll workers, join in this sacred act! Make your voices heard, make your choices known!”
My friend, Rabbi Joel Mosbacher, would like to declare Election Day a Jewish holiday. It is, he believes, the ultimate enactment of the prayer of praise that is part of the Morning Blessings, “Praised are You, Adonai, who has made us to be free.”[i]
I have said it before: our tradition makes it very clear. It is a Jewish responsibility to vote. Not voting is not an option. The great sage, Rabbi Hillel, taught, “Al tifrosh min hatzibur,” “Do not separate yourself from the community.”[ii] And for a community to succeed, for a community to be strong, it must have the active participation of all of its members. Abstaining, refraining, or disengaging from making group decisions robs the community of your input. Voting is a sacred Jewish act.
Note that neither Isaiah nor Rabbi Hillel (nor Rabbi Mosbacher for that matter!) tells us for whom to vote. As I’ve said before, Isaiah wasn’t a Republican or a Democrat. He was political, to be certain, in terms of demanding our involvement in social issues. But he wasn’t partisan. Our individual understanding of Jewish values, and how they come to bear on the great affairs of our country, may lead some of us to vote one way and others in another way. We might disagree over public policy choices or candidates or ballot initiatives. We might give different weight to different parts of our tradition that incline us towards one position or another. But regardless of who or what you vote for, the Jewish thing to do is to VOTE.
And so, heeding Isaiah, I would like to honor the commitment to voting we have in our congregation. If you have actively voted for 50 years or more, would you please raise your hand? (Keep them up.) For 40 years or more? 30? 20? 10? If you have been voting for less than 10? That’s a wonderful sight to see, the commitment we have made to voting in the past. (Hands down.)
And now to the future. If you are registered to vote for the first time in 2018, would you please raise your hand? Now, regardless if it is the first year or the fiftieth year or more, if you are registered to vote for the November 2018 election, please raise your hand. (Keep them up.) That’s good, all these people registered to vote. Will you take one more step? Will you heed Isaiah’s call? Will you, today, publically commit to voting in the election in November? Everyone who will pledge to vote in the 2018 elections, would you please stand, in body or in spirit?
For those who pledge to vote this year, Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, wrote this prayer:
Adonai, our God, You grant us knowledge, and teach us understanding. Help us to recognize the gift of our vibrant and open democracy and the responsibility to nurture it. Strengthen us to take our duties as citizens seriously, to hold in our minds and our hearts all that is at stake in this election and to fulfill our obligations with integrity. May we discern Your Divine presence and amplify Your teachings through our actions and commitments. Remind us of the goodness and diversity of the United States of America. May we strive to care about those with whom we disagree as dearly as we care about our own ideals. Guide our hands to reach out to one another, certain in the truth that what unites us is greater than anything that divides us. May You grace us with knowledge, understanding and discernment.
And let us say, Amen.
[ii] Pirkei Avot 2:5.