Nov. 2 is Election Day — we have just a few more days until the political ads disappear and you no longer have to be afraid to turn on the television. Once again, we are inundated with commercials that are not only obnoxious, but useless. As far as I can tell, every candidate — for Congress, for freeholder, for dog catcher — is running on the same two-plank platform. First, every candidate wants to create jobs (with little to say about how to actually accomplish this), and everyone is running on: My opponent is a liar and a crook. At least in Nevada one of the ballot choices is “None of the Above.”
Of course, it’s not my place to tell you whom to vote for, nor am I an expert on politics. I’m a rabbi, so what I do know is Torah, and I think you could do worse than to look at this week’s parsha for guidance on how to select the candidates you will support.
Hayei Sarah begins with the report of the death of Sarah; this event causes Abraham to realize that it’s well past time for his son Isaac to be married. He appoints Eliezer, the senior servant of his household, to find a suitable bride for Isaac. Yet Abraham gives Eliezer no instructions about the kind of woman he should choose. Abraham’s only stated concern is that Isaac should not marry a Canaanite woman, but rather a woman from the land of Abraham’s birth.
When Eliezer arrives in Aram-Naharayim, he asks for God’s help and devises a test for the candidates for Isaac’s hand. He says, “Let the maiden to whom I say, ‘Please lower your jar that I may drink’ and who replies, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels’ — let her be the one God has appointed for Isaac.”
Eliezer wasn’t concerned about Rebecca’s qualifications for the position of Isaac’s wife — abilities required of a mistress of a large and wealthy household who would, as such, have to manage servants, property, and money. What Eliezer cared about was character. His test was meant to find a woman who was kind and generous; the technical skills needed to run Isaac’s household could be learned later. Certainly it would be much easier for a shepherd girl to learn household budgeting than for a mean-spirited woman to learn kindness.
As Eliezer understood, it is a person’s character that is fundamental, and it seems to me that this is also the issue when it comes to selecting candidates for public office.
Most people select whom they will vote for by comparing candidates’ stated positions on issues that they care about the most. Still, you don’t have to be a cynic to realize that most politicians are smart enough to say what they believe people want to hear and to promise what they think will get them elected.
But how do you know that your candidate will try to keep his or her promises? And, perhaps more important, we have all seen how rapidly government priorities change in response to unexpected events. What will your candidate do when faced with the unexpected? Whom should you trust?
This is where we can turn to Abraham’s servant Eliezer for guidance. He believed that the way to choose the best person for the job was to select someone of good character and all the rest would follow.
So before you vote on Tuesday, think about character — about honesty, integrity, the ability to work hard, and a commitment to doing what is in the best interests of all the people. If you find a candidate with these qualities, you can be pretty confident that no matter what issues arise, he or she will do the right thing.