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Toward Shabbat: Vayera

This was said to be the election of a lifetime, the most consequential and fateful of presidential elections in a very long time, maybe ever.

We were all very much aware that on the ballot this time was not only our immediate future, the next several years, but the very essence of America, what defines us as a nation, our character, our values, our institutions, our democracy itself, our standing in the world. Before us were two starkly different visions; they couldn’t have been more divergent. We went into this historical moment with full understanding of the gravity of our collective choice. We knew of the real possibility that there would be no way back, that the choice could define us forever.

Many, if not most, of us went into this Election Day bearing the anguish accumulated over four dreadful years, as well as the growing fears and apprehension of the months and weeks that led up to November 3.

More than half of the country now begins to exhale in extraordinary relief; the other half is clenching its teeth. Normal elections yield temporary political majorities and minorities. This election leaves a painfully fractured nation, each half viewing the other as irreconcilable, dangerous enemies.

Before we run forward, in our hurry to leave these years as far behind as possible, I suggest we pause and approach this moment as an opportunity for great discernment. There is an enormous amount of understanding and learning to be done. We will not be able to effectively undertake the arduous work that will be required of us to restore, to redress, to rebuild, and to unfold unless we first seek to understand who we truly are as a nation. Not who we think we are, or who wish we were, but who we truly are. And why we stand so bitterly divided.

I believe that there is a profound message encoded in these past years that we need to patiently decipher. Slogans and quick answers won’t serve us well. We need to search, to inquire, to dialogue, to listen, and to learn.

There is a concept in Jewish mysticism and in Hasidism called yeridah letzorekh aliyah: descent for the sake of ascent. We cannot really ascend without descending first. By descending to a dark place, usually in our soul, we are exposed to our own shadows, our demons, and our weaknesses, and we learn who we truly are and what is the work we must do in order to grow. Only then can we ascend.

Yeridah letzorekh aliyah: descent for the sake of ascent.

We have descended to low and dark places these past years and have been exposed to our national shadows. We have seen some pretty horrible things in the national mirror.

But the ascent is not guaranteed or inevitable.

I pray we use this moment wisely to summon the understanding and collective determination to push ourselves upward.

And I pray for God’s blessing on our country in this vulnerable and critical yet precious moment of renewed possibility and hope.