The great maggidim (preachers of ethics) were wont to treat the entire world as one vast moshol (metaphor) for spiritual concepts. In that vein, it would be hard to think of a better moshol for the importance of each and every human action than the American presidential election (the results of which are still unknown as I write).
The Torah insists that there is no such thing as a spiritually neutral act. With every act or thought, we either elevate or lower ourselves on the ladder of spiritual attainment. Those actions, in turn, affect the entire world by opening up or closing the conduits of blessing from G-d to the world.
In his monumental Mishneh Torah in the section dealing with the Laws of Repentance, Maimonides instructs us to picture a scale balanced in perfect equipoise, with our good deeds on one side and our transgressions on the other. Even more, we should view the entire world in the same fashion, with its fate to be determined by our next action.
Many of us have no doubt brushed aside Maimonides’ metaphor with a simple common sense question: Is it really possible for the scales to be equally balanced? After this presidential election, the answer to that question will never seem so obvious again.
Over 100,000,000 Americans voted for president, yet, as of this writing, a switch of less than 200 votes out of 6,000,000 cast in Florida would have tipped the balance. A number of corollaries follow from recognition of the importance of every action.
First, think carefully. Had the Democratic official assigned to check the ballot in Palm Beach County done so with care, or bothered to consult Florida law on the form of the ballot, Holocaust-denier Pat Buchanan would not have received 3,000 votes in a heavily Jewish area and 19,000 more ballots would not have been invalidated due to double punching for Gore and Buchanan.
Once you know what to do, do it. If just one Democratic poll watcher had acted alertly to inform campaign headquarters that voters were confused by the ballot, or if someone at campaign headquarters had acted with more alacrity, campaign workers transporting elderly voters to the poll could have reviewed the ballot with them.
Are you sure that’s what you want to do? Nearly 100,000 Floridians voted for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader. No doubt they were filled with a feeling of smug superiority towards all those busy choosing between Tweedledum and Tweedledee. I wonder how many felt so sure of themselves the next morning when they realized that they had cost the candidate most committed to environmental issues the election. So much for purely symbolic action.
No second chance. By now it’s pretty clear that a razor thin majority of Floridians who voted on November 8 intended to vote for Gore. Yet ordering a revote could not prove that proposition and it would be manifestly unfair to Bush. No doubt many Nader voters would switch to Gore, but Bush would be correct to argue that only the voters’ intentions on November 8 are relevant.
Consequences are forever. The American electoral system is over 220 years old. That system gives undue weight to the votes of small states (by giving each state two electoral votes for its two senators). That hidden flaw has never determined an election before. But it likely will this time. Not only did Gore win the popular vote, but the states he won contain over 51% of the American population.
Secure the homefront. Had Gore carried his home state of Tennessee, he might have won even without Florida. Jewish sources are replete with assertions that a person’s main tasks in life are establishing a relationship of marital harmony with one’s spouse and raising moral children who will carry on in a life of Torah and mitzvos. No matter what a person achieves in the world, if he fails at home, he will be judged a loser. Just like Al Gore Jr.