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Rabbi Joe's Weekly Message

Week of November 23

Rabbi Joseph Hample

The Morning After

I'm off to the nation's capital this week for the national holiday. And I'm grateful that in spite of our ever-uglier political discourse, we still have a functioning nation to celebrate. America has its problems, but it remains the #1 country that people want to move to. Immigration is the sincerest form of flattery.

We've just survived another election, and whether the winner was a Democrat (Pennsylvania) or a Republican (everywhere else), some citizens were surprised and disappointed. In this week's Torah portion, Jacob wakes up after marrying Rachel, he thinks, and finds Leah in his bed instead (Genesis 29:20-25). He is surprised and disappointed, but Leah will end up bearing him seven children, including Judah, for whom our religion is named. When fate lets us down, we have to make the best of it.

An unexpected outcome may lead us to question the whole methodology. Many of our compatriots think the electoral process is biased one way or the other, according to a new book called American Conspiracy Theories, by Uscinski and Parent. In our scripture, Jacob is supposed to receive the spotted and speckled animals in his father-in-law's flock (Genesis 30:28-34). But the father-in-law rigs the vote, so to speak, secretly purging the mottled beasts from the population (Genesis 30:35-36). Will Jacob end up with nothing?

I've lived long enough to hear each party's demise predicted many times, whenever the other guys do well at the polls. But the opposition always bounces back: it's the logic of the system. In our text, it turns out that Jacob is an early bioengineer: he knows how to breed more of the dappled livestock, thus restoring the balance (Genesis 30:37-43). Likewise in U.S. governance. The seesaw of power between the parties shows that neither is being smothered.

In the Torah portion, Jacob attributes his good fortune to Divine protection (Genesis 31:42). At our Thanksgiving tables this week, we will reflect on life's uncertainty and our debt to the Guardian of our ancestors. It's been a turbulent November, but we are glad to be living in "one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

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