The Trump Administration recently launched a website offering Americans an opportunity to share ideas and suggestions “on how the government can be better organized to work for the American people” and “drain the swamp,” as the site puts it. In my view, this is a mature and welcome approach to governance.
The site asks people, “What agency would you like to reform?” But as I see it, here lies the catch: The problem is not with agencies, but with the people who run them. As is happening throughout society, the people who run the government are becoming so alienated and narcissistic that the system itself is becoming dysfunctional.
Every rule or regulation is established in order to cope with a specific challenge or a group of challenges. The United States Department of Homeland Security, for example, deals with anti-terrorism, border security, immigration and customs, cyber security, and disaster prevention and management. It was created in response to the September 11 attacks. But it has not solved these problems. All we get are more rules and regulations attempting to deal with these problems—to no avail.
Likewise, in 1970, the US government created the Environmental Protection Agency in order to protect human health and the environment by writing and enforcing regulations. Yet, despite an annual budget exceeding eight billion dollars, the environment is still growing increasingly polluted, and the quality of our air, water, and food is declining.
Jared Kushner flies to Iraq with top US general (credit: REUTERS)
As it is with the Homeland Security Department and the EPA, so it is with the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Justice, Department of Education, and every department that the government has ever established. They are all drowning in a swamp of regulations that have rendered them dysfunctional.
When the first Jewish settlers came to settle in the Hula Valley in northern Israel, the area was nothing but a swamp. In order to dry it, they had to unclog the outlet, a section of the Jordan River, which was full of silt. Once they accomplished this, the Hula Swamp was drained out in no time, leaving behind lush fertile soil for cultivation. In much the same way, the cork blocking the government from establishing an effective administration is the alienation and narcissism rooted in human nature. To drain this swamp, US President Donald Trump will have to first deal with the disunity in the American society, and the Jews in his administration are the key to his success or failure.
Why the Jews Matter
On April 14, Trump said in his weekly address
, dedicated to Passover and Easter that “the story of exodus … is a story of an incredible people who … raised up the face of humankind. Down through the centuries, the Jewish people have … uplifted the world beyond measure.”
The uniqueness of the Jews has been known for as long as there have been Jews. In his essay, “The Final Resolution,” author Leo Tolstoy wrote of the Jews: “The Jew is the symbol of eternity. He is the one who for so long had guarded the prophetic message and transmitted it to all mankind. The Jew is eternal. He is the embodiment of eternity.”
Similarly, Mark Twain wrote in The Complete Essays of Mark Twain
: “If statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one percent of the human race” [Actually, it is .2 percent]. Yet, Twain writes that the Jews’ “contributions to the world’s list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine, and abstruse learning are way out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers.”
“The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone,” Twain continues. “The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?”
A Nation with a Purpose
The Jews exist, despite all the persecutions, because there is a purpose to their existence. They were created in order to be “a light unto nations,” to lead the world from darkness to light—from hatred to love, from separation to connection. For this reason, the Jews were declared a nation only after they committed to be “as one man with one heart.” When a man asked Old Hillel what to do in order to convert, the sage told him “That which you hate, do not do unto your neighbor; this is the whole of the Torah” (Talmud, Masechet Shabbat
Even the religions that emerged from Judaism recognize its seminal importance. The New Testament writes, “for salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22), and the Quran states
, “O children of Israel, call to mind My favor which I bestowed on you and that I made you excel the nations” (The Cow, 2.47, 2.122).
In the end, there is no escape from the realization that the world expects nothing less from us than Tikkun Olam
(the correction of the world). For this reason, the Jews in the Trump Administration and in his family are in the ideal position to at least begin to carry out our nation’s vocation.
Easier Than It Sounds
“When Israel unites, to be all as one, and not as a figure of imagination, but real and true unity, by this we hasten and rush the true redemption, which is also the complete redemption—redemption after which there is no exile,” wrote Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (The Lubavitcher Rebbe) in Torat Menachem
. Numerous Jewish references allude to the connection between the unity of Israel and the connection of the world. In the Torah portion Aharei Mot
, the Book of Zohar
writes, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is when brothers sit together. These are the friends as they sit together, and are not separated from each other. At first, they seem like people at war, wishing to kill one another. Then, they return to being in brotherly love. Henceforth, you will also not part … And by your merit there will be peace in the world.” Rav Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of Israel, also writes (Orot Hakodesh
): “In Israel is the secret to the unity of the world.”
There is a profound reason why Jews have always cultivated unity as the solution to all problems. As I wrote in "Who Are You, People of Israel
," "Why Do People Hate Jews
," and in numerous other places, our nation began in ancient Babylon when Abraham Our Father saw that his people in Ur of the Chaldeans were growing increasingly alienated. As Maimonides describes in Mishneh Torah
(Chapter 1) and as the Midrash also details (Beresheet Rabbah
), Abraham wanted to help his townspeople overcome their mutual dislike. He pondered and reflected until he realized that hatred could not be overcome because it derives from the human ego, which is ever growing. Centuries later, the Midrash (Kohelet Rabbah
) summed up the essence of human egoism with the immortal adage: “A man does not leave the world with half his desire in his hand. Rather, if he has one hundred, he wants to have two hundred, and if he has two hundred, he wants to have four hundred.”
While Abraham realized that the ego is continuously growing, he also realized that instead of pointlessly fighting it, people should focus on tightening their unity to match their growing mutual hatred. This realization was key to the uniqueness of the nation that emerged from his descendants: the Jewish people. Abraham’s type of unity was no ordinary unity, but rather one that was forged so as to overcome the fiercest hatred.
Throughout the generations, the Jews experienced numerous internal conflicts and wars, but they were all in order to increase the unity and love of others among them. The Book of Zohar
) sums it up: “All the wars in the Torah are for peace and love,” and King Solomon states it poetically (Prov 10:12): “Hate stirs strife, and love covers all crimes.”
Abraham accepted everyone into his group, without any discrimination or preconditions other than the willingness to unite. As a result, the people who became his disciples came from all over Babylon. This makes Judaism a unique nation—fashioned not by tribal affinity but by an ideology of unity above hatred, and consisting of “representatives” of all the nations of the world. Tikkun Olam, therefore, is in our DNA!
When Moses came out of Egypt, he wanted to continue where Abraham had left off. The Ramchal writes in the Ramchal Commentary on the Torah
, that Moses “wished to complete the correction of the world. However, he did not succeed because of the corruptions that occurred along the way.” Nevertheless, as soon as the Jews were declared a nation, they were tasked with being “a light unto nations,” specifically, completing the task of uniting the world.
In many ways, the United States is modern-day Babylon: a collection of ethnicities, cultures, and races. As was Babylon in the days of Abraham, today’s US is in crisis. The swamp America is drowning in is not the bureaucratic labyrinth that Trump inherited from his predecessor, but the quagmire of hatred and alienation engulfing the American society. The Jews in Trump’s administration have a key role to play in draining it: to start working on their unity and thereby pull out the cork that is damming the drain. If they begin to cultivate “real and true unity,” as the Lubavitcher Rebbe put it, they will unleash the powers of unity that date back to the formation of the Jewish people.
But it must not end there. The unity must encompass the whole of the Jewish people, and subsequently, the whole of American society. Tikkun Olam
begins within, but it must not end there. When people utter anti-Semitic tirades such as Mel Gibson’s
, “the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world,” it implies that they believe that it is our responsibility to fix it. Even our own sources tell us: “No calamity comes to the world but because of Israel” (Talmud, Masechet Yevamot
, 63a). Because people feel this in their guts, whenever and wherever there is a crisis, the Jews will be held responsible. And indeed we are.
If I were Donald Trump, I would pressure the Jews to unite. Not violently, but I would certainly make them see that this is what I expect from them. Even a rabid anti-Semite such as Henry Ford saw the role that Jews should play: “Modern reformers, who are constructing model social systems, would do well to look into the social system under which the early Jews were organized” (The International Jew —The World's Foremost Problem
). If Ford could see this, why can’t we?
When we unite, it will immediately reflect on the entire world. As Ford put it, humanity seeks to take example from the Jews. And since the Jews are separate from one another, they need reminding of their calling.
We must not wait for others to compel us. We must remind ourselves that the separation between us is growing precisely so that our unity will grow, as well, and cover our hatred with love for one another, just as our ancestors did. The sooner we begin, the easier it will be to drain the swamp of hatred spreading through America.
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