Torah Wisdom from Chayei Sarah: Counseling Grief Stricken Voters
Obama’s greatest supporters wiped tears of joy from their eyes as the president addressed the nation in his victory speech. Mitt Romney’s greatest supporters were also drying their tears as they were informed of the results (captured in spectacular modern form on this Tumblr: Whitepeoplemourningromney).
In the old days, when your candidate lost, you grumbled at home, maybe made some comments around the water cooler at work, or maybe even penned an Op-Ed. But in 2012, when your candidate loses, the opportunities to publicly grieve are so much greater. Conservatives (and liberals would have done the same thing if Romney had won) took to social media expressing their distaste for the election results.
This means three things.
First, it means that people have an opportunity to vent, be heard, and create a conversation about the election in a public place. That’s great.
Second, it means that people can make one another hysterical with exaggerations, myths, or pure fabrications. Since anyone can write anything they want, misinformation can spread rather easily. Especially, when people are in a state of grief, they are particularly susceptible to hyperbole and over-dramatics.
Third, it means that people in a compromised state can say or do things that they will regret. But they are doing them publicly. This can make things awkward when they cool off.
I think that we need a little bit of advice on dealing with disappointment and grief. Fortunately, this week’s parsha is Chayei Sarah – the parsha where we learn about grief. Granted, Avraham was grieving for his beloved wife, but I am pretty sure some people loved Romney more than they loved their spouses, or at the very least, hate Obama enough to make it an apt comparison.
The Torah tells us that Sarah died and Avraham came to eulogize her and to cry for her. The next verse says that “Avraham rose up from the presence of his deceased.” (Genesis 23:3) Then Avraham went to negotiate a burial place for Sarah. The commentaries are bothered by the strange usage in verse 3. Why does the Torah say that Avraham “rose up”?
I once heard from Reb Yeruchem Levovitz that the Torah is telling us an important lesson in grief. So long as Avraham was grieving for his wife in private, it was acceptable, even laudable, for his emotions to be on his sleeve. But once he began dealing with outsiders in a potential business deal, Avraham had to leave those public emotions behind. Avraham had to “rise up” from his mood of public grief and put on his game face so that he could deal with the realities of life. Outward displays of grief have a way of weighing on others and making interactions uncomfortable for other people.
Avraham was in complete control of his emotions and when it was time to face the world, he kept his emotions in check.
I think this is great advice for mourning conservatives. I empathize with people who feel terrible about the election. But I do not empathize with YouTube screeds, public plans to move to Australia, fear mongering, sore loser complaints, or any other anti-social reaction to the election. I think we all have a responsibility to act civilly toward each other whether we win or we lose, whether we are elated or depressed.
To be fair, I think this applies equally to public displays of schadenfreude. But I have seen far less of that than I have seen meltdowns.
My last piece of advice is not to become too emotionally invested in things that are out of one’s control. Politics and sports are two areas where people place a tremendous amount of emotional energy. We are setting ourselves up for disappointment if we expect to win every time. We won’t. Reasonable people will disagree. Your political opponents are not (all) idiots. There’s enough room for an amalgamation of conservative and liberal views in our political system.
I chuckled at liberals who mourned in 2004 when Bush won his second term and I chuckle today when conservatives proclaim Obama’s reelection the end of America.
Let’s learn the lesson of Avraham’s mourning. Pull yourself together and carry on with making a difference in the world.