Lech Lecha: When the Ends Cannot Justify the Means

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We all know the expression: The ends justifies the means. At times we have invoked that idiom with great wisdom and foresight. Too often however, we quote the expression to rationalize our egregious behavior-both individual and collective. We can justify terrorism, government sponsored mass killing /imprisonment, income tax evasion and all kinds of economic abuses; all in the pursuit of a ‘noble’ ends.

Let’s travel back to the early biblical days of Abraham and Sarah; our main protagonists in Lech Lecha; our weekly Torah portion. There is a famine in their newly adopted land of Canaan. In order to survive, the couple travel to Egypt; where food was plentiful. As our Torah commentary suggests, Egypt was home to great danger and depravity. Egypt’s Pharaoh earned a well deserved reputation for seizing beautiful women and forcing them into his harem. Abraham and Sarah were certainly aware of that reality; and consequently Abraham suggests a course of action which has been criticized throughout Jewish history. He asks Sarah to identity as his sister; knowing that by being identified as Abraham’s wife would lead Pharaoh’s henchmen to kill him and to seize her. At least by identifying Sarah as his sister (a less threatening circumstance to the Egyptians); Sarah would still be kidnapped but at least Abraham would be spared.

We moderns can only imagine the depth of Egyptian depravity; and therefore we might understand Abraham’s motivation and intention. Nevertheless, I for one can understand, but never endorse what Abraham proposed. True, he saved his own skin; but in the process was willing to potentially sacrifice Sarah’s honor-and maybe her life. The story concludes happily, but in this scenario at least, the end does not justify the means. If we do not live according to some basic standards of ethics and nobility, then what kind of people are we? Who is to say that the next time the means we employ will not be even more severe?

These thoughts come to mind as we begin to heal from the most contentious election campaign of our era. Whomever we elected as President would be endorsed by merely half the voting population. In the 2016 election the victor actually lost the popular vote. The process of healing will take time; yet eventually we will move past the antagonisms of this Election year. Yet, I also believe that as a prerequisite to healing, we cannot automatically dismiss the most vitriolic, detestable and immoral campaign in modern American history as merely reflecting politics as usual. We cannot be cavalier in arguing that since the campaign is over it should now be blotted from memory. In seeking any public office-whether President of the US or local legislator-the ultimate end does not justifies any means.

As a Political Science major, I recognize and accept the fact that campaigns are often contentious. In the heat of a national debate, candidates speak with little filter; they speak with passion and often disrespectfully and contemptuously toward the opponent. However, no end and justify misogyny, homophobia, racism and degradation; the total lack of humanity expressed during the campaign. As a loyal American who cherishes our Constitutional freedoms, I embrace the results of the election. I call upon all of us to rally behind our new President; as we attempt to heal the wounds of a bitter campaign.   But I also believe there were lines crossed which cannot be flippantly dismissed, if we are to begin an era of reconciliation and healing. Over the past year, both individuals and large segments of our population have born deep emotional scars; they have been subjected to derision and insult. We have witness the contempt for human dignity; the unconscionable rejection of both American and Jewish principles I hold dear. Regardless of our political preferences, I submit that the ugliness and contempt reflected in this year’s election can never justify the ends.

We are at a crossroads in America: The racial, gender and social divide is as severe as any era during my lifetime. As they morph from candidates to elected officials, we can bet that many elected officials will transform their shameful campaign strategies into a strategy for best representing all of their constituents. I believe however, that we must also hold them accountable for a transformation in character and not merely for a transformation in tactics. We need to be vigilant when reminding our officials (on a daily basis) of their responsibility toward a higher ethic; an ethic which transcends any insatiable ambition to achieve political power. As citizens, we need to also remind ourselves that we live in a pluralistic country; where most of us at one time were immigrants, outsiders or even outcasts. Recalling our humble past will hopefully inspire us to broaden the umbrella under which we all need to stand.

Abraham’s ends to preserve his life can never justify the means he employed in the process. Likewise; political ends achieved in our Election cannot justify the means employed along the journey. And so to our President elect and to our recently elected leaders (incumbents and newcomers):

-With new means may you all embrace the upcoming years with a sense of modesty, contrition and genuine intention to represent our nation.

-With new means may you work toward healing a growing divide and restoring our trust.

With new means may each of us work toward forging a healthy (and permanent) respect for each other; irrespective of color, religion, gender, sexual orientation and educational background.

And with new means may we be an inspiration to a world which looks to us for leadership and hope…