Torah Thoughts for the Post-Election

There are close to 250 million adults in the United States. How can 100 million people come to terms with the fact that the candidate they chose did not win? Actually, the issue may be more how can they deal with the fact that the one they were certain they did not want to win, won the election? In this election, millions will be distressed no matter who wins. How do you handle this?

A few weeks ago I was speaking to a woman who lives in Israel. This was during the time of the UNESCO vote denying Jewish ties to the Beis Hamikdash and Yerushalayim. I mentioned the difficult challenges our people face and was surprised by her response. It was calm and even cheery. Steeped in faith, she referred to the Biblical lessons she had learned regarding the times we live in. While I expressed concern, she was able to smile.

When Hashem told Avraham that he would bear a child with his wife Sarah, he laughed. Hashem repeated the news adding that the child should be given the name Yitzchak, which means, “He will laugh.” That seems like an unusual name. If it was chosen because of Avraham’s reaction, then Tzechok, laughter, would have been more appropriate. Why give a name, Yitzchak, that speaks of laughter in the future? Furthermore, Yitzchak is our Patriarch. Why should he have been given a name that could be associated with light-heartedness and levity?

Understanding laughter is not simple. Gelotology is the study of laughter and its effects on the body, from a psychological and physiological perspective. There are various kinds of laughter and there are a variety of reasons for their causes and what they represent. It is an art to understand how people react and what triggers various responses. Sometimes a joke is made eliciting uncontrollable, hilarious laughter. At times the same words can fall flat. Laughter comes about when people are taken off guard along with an element of surprise.

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch explains that Tzechok is an ironic laughter, “produced only by noticing something which strikes as ridiculous.” He refers to contradiction of expectation that a hundred year-old man and his ninety year old-wife, who have never had a child in the course of their long married life, now, practically at the end of their lives, should get a son! “Then to expect that a great, world-conquering nation would emerge from this late-born only child, whose very existence was not to be expected and would be early orphaned; Taking the natural order of things into consideration, placing the very greatest expectations on the very smallest, almost non-existent beginning seems incredulous.”

This contrast was so great that even Avraham laughed. Rav Hirsch continues, “According to all the natural conditions of cause and effect, the whole beginning of the Jewish people…must appear as the most unwarranted laughable pretention. It only makes sense when it reckons on the deeply infringing, completely free almighty will, and free-willed almighty power of a free-willed Almighty G-d as the basis of its opinion.”

The teaching of Rav Hirsch addresses that our people were established on a foundation that is inexplicable and unexpected. Our constitution is affirmed by the power of Hashem. That element would carry us through the ages leaving our enemies astounded and dumb-founded. “The loud laugh that has followed the path of the Jews throughout the course of their history is a true proof of the Divine nature of this path, it does not disturb them as they were prepared for this laughter beforehand.”

Rav Shamshom Raphael Hirsch explains that Tzechok and Tzeok, crying out, have a common base. Both result from dealing with matters beyond the usual. Laughter and crying have a common source. Indeed in this election, people are not sure if they should laugh or cry.

With this explanation, we can more deeply understand the famous teaching of the Talmud that after the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash Rabbi Akiva was in the company of his contemporaries. They cried in despair. Rabbi Akiva laughed with the understanding of the charge in the name of Yitzchak. Our condition cannot be despair with the knowledge that Hashem is caring for us.

It is most significant that Rav Hirsch notes the importance of the name Yitzchak, referring to future laughter and the importance to be prepared for it beforehand. It is no coincidence that Election Day comes in the week of Parshas Lech Lecha with the naming of Yitzchak designated by Hashem. As the election results come in and as we come to the end of this most unusual election period, we must keep in mind that our people are the descendants of Yitzchak. Hashem is there for us – always. That should make us feel secure and give us reason, even now, to smile.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.