Is menschlichkeit an important virtue for the President of the United States?
Of course it is, and the so-called first “debate” between Joe Biden and Donald Trump on September 29 demonstrates why as clearly as anything we’ve seen in the last four years! Hopefully, the other two debates will be changed in format by the Elections Commission to better spare Americans and the world the spectacle of an unhinged pathologically unfit and mean-spirited bully of a President who leads the United States of America and the free world.
Judaism teaches that striving to be a mensch is an essential and key attribute of good and decent people and moral leadership.
The Yiddish word mensch (lit. “man”) is multi-layered, rich, and inclusive of many virtues: wisdom, discernment, good judgment, and common sense; honesty, honor, and respect for the dignity of others; accountability, responsibility, dependability, and competence; compassion, empathy, and kindness; humility, gratitude, and generosity; and commitment to the common good.
A mensch as leader appeals to our better angels, elevates us beyond our narrow self-interest, and binds us to a higher cause.
Vice President Joe Biden exemplifies what it means to be a mensch as he strives to embody continually the above virtues and has sought to live them in his personal life and throughout his career as a public servant.
Biden has been characterized as the “anti-Trump” because Donald Trump possesses NONE of the virtues embodied in menschlichkite.
Will Wilkinson of the New York Times put it exactly right the morning after the first so-called “debate” about the character and behavior of the current President of the United States: “Donald Trump delivered a most grotesque, mendacious, disrespectful and outright disgusting debate performance. Trump’s flagrant indecency, intended to project strength, projected only contempt for America’s voters and democratic traditions. Joe Biden’s forbearance, patience, seriousness and coherence (when he was allowed to speak) shone like a lighthouse showing the way to safe harbor through a raging, chaotic storm.”
The following are textual passages taken from Jewish tradition spanning 3000 years of Jewish history that address our people’s expectations of leadership and how they relate to the above description of a mensch. As you read them, compare and contrast them with both Joe Biden and Donald Trump in mind.
“It was told to you, o human, what is good and what God demands of you – only doing justice and loving kindness and walking humbly with your God.” –Micah 6:8 – Kingdom of Judah, 8th century B.C.E.
“Go out and see the straight path to which a person should cling. Rabbi Eliezer says: ‘A good eye.’ Rabbi Yehoshua says: ‘A good friend.’ Rabbi Yosi says: ‘A good neighbor.’ Rabbi Shimon says: ‘Seeing the consequences of one’s actions.’ Rabbi Elazar says: ‘A good heart.’ He [Rabban Yohanan] said to them: ‘I prefer the words of Elazar ben Arach, for in his words your words are included.’” –Pirkei Avot 2:9 – Israel, 3rd century C.E.
“In a place where there are no human beings, strive to be a mensch! (alternative translation: ‘In a place where there are no decent leaders, strive to be such a leader.’)” –Pirkei Avot 2:6 – Israel, 3rd century C.E.
“Concerning the overbearing, haughty, proud, violent, insolent, and pugnacious, Scripture declares, ‘For the arms of the wicked shall be broken; but God upholds the righteous.’ (Psalm 37:17)” –Derekh Eretz Rabbah 2:2 – Late 1st millennium C.E.
“Concerning flatterers, liars, and workers of iniquity, Scripture declares, ‘The wicked shall return to the nether-world.’ (Psalms 9:17) And it further states, ‘That which is crooked cannot be made straight.’ (Ecclesiastes 1:15)” –Derekh Eretz Rabbah 2:7 – Late 1st millennium C.E.
“There is blunt talk like sword-thrusts, but the speech of the wise is healing. Truthful speech abides forever, a lying tongue for but a moment. … Lying speech is an abomination to God, but those who act faithfully please the Eternal. Clever people conceal what they know, but the mind of a dullard cries out folly.” –Proverbs 12:18-23
“The literal meaning of g’nei-vat da-at in Hebrew is ‘theft of one’s mind, thoughts, wisdom, or knowledge,’ (i.e., fooling someone and thereby causing him or her to have a mistaken assumption, belief, and/or impression). … the term is used in Jewish law to indicate deception, cheating, creating a false impression, and acquiring undeserved goodwill. G’nei-vat da-at goes beyond lying; any words or actions that cause others to form incorrect conclusions about one’s motives might be a violation of this prohibition. One does not have the right to diminish the ability of another person… to make a fair and honest evaluation, whether in business or interpersonal relations.” –G’nei-vat Da-at: The Prohibition against Deception in Today’s World by Hershey H. Friedman, Professor of Business and Marketing, Brooklyn College of the City University of New York – see http://www.jlaw.com/Articles/geneivatdaat.html
This 9th Blog completes the series I’ve posted on “Jewish Values and the Biden-Harris Campaign.”
The most important action we now can take is to vote early and get everyone we know, (young to old) to vote early or to be willing to stand in line on election day – especially in the swing states identified by the Democratic presidential campaign where the closest results will likely occur: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
It’s important that we urge all young people to vote, 50% of whom only intend to cast a ballot. That’s just not nearly good enough.
The Biden-Harris ticket needs to receive a landslide win to stop Trump’s pernicious efforts to undermine this election and steal the presidency from a clear majority vote of the American people and the Democrats need to take back the Senate, expand our majority in the House, and win in state and local elections.
You can find all 9 Blogs at www.rabbijohnrosove.wordpress.com
JEWISH VALUES AND THE BIDEN-HARRIS TICKET – Blog #1
HEALTH CARE – Jewish Values and the Biden-Harris Ticket – Blog #2
ECONOMIC JUSTICE – Jewish Values and the Biden-Harris Ticket – Blog #3
THE ENVIRONMENT AND CLIMATE CHANGE – Jewish Values and the Biden-Harris Ticket – Blog #4
SUPPORT FOR ISRAEL AND THE JEWISH COMMUNITY – Jewish Values and the Biden-Harris Ticket – Blog#5
IMMIGRATION AND TREATMENT OF THE STRANGER – Jewish Values and the Biden-Harris Ticket – Blog #6
CRIMINAL JUSTICE, POLICE REFORM & RACIAL JUSTICE – Jewish Values & the Biden-Harris Ticket – Blog #7
EDUCATION – Jewish Values and the Biden-Harris Ticket – Blog #8
MENSCHLICHKEIT IS ON THE BALLOT – Jewish Values and the Biden-Harris Ticket – Blog #9