It’s quite ironic that when we look back at a year known by the Gregorian calendar as 2020, which in ophthalmological terminology represents perfect eyesight, we don’t have an accurate reading on just about anything that transpired during these past eleven months.
To be fair, I don’t think that there is a problem with our perceptivity of what is going on in our lives as much as there is with people in positions of power and influence attempting to spin things in a way that causes us to question everything that occurs. They have been successful, and so we continue to question whether or not we are seeing correctly.
That leads me to words with which to characterize this past year. Every year, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) designates one word as Word of the Year. Without even looking online to see what they chose as this year’s word, I considered “Unprecedented” as the title of this piece, a word that I have heard used an unprecedented number of times this year. It turns out that even the OED could not put their finger on just one word that encapsulated this past year — talk about blurred vision. In case I piqued your interest regarding what they nominated as the words of the year, some of them were “bushfire,” referring to the January Australian fires, which were the worst in recorded history, and “acquittal,” referring to the meritless attempt to impeach our president. Some of the others are “Black Lives Matter,” “cancel culture,” “mail-in,” and “Belarusian.” The last two are referring to mail-in voting for the U.S. election and the controversial reelection of Belarusian President Alexander Lukaschenko. If there was ever significance to the juxtaposition of terms, or, in Talmudic parlance, “smuchin”, “mail-in” and “Belarusian” are two words that describe what we are going through right now.
Although the naming of an English-language word of the year dates back to the year 1990 when a man named Allan Metcalf pitched the idea to the American Dialect Society, I never really knew of it until former First Lady Michelle Obama designated her word of the year as “selfie,” a word which, no doubt, has grown popular in the world of photography but may also give us a window into the lives of the Obamas and what motivated their every move at the end of the day.
This has definitely been an unprecedented year. But more than unprecedented, which just means that it pales in comparison to any other year before it, I believe this year can be more accurately characterized as the year of anti-precedents, which means that if you were trying to forecast a certain event based on mathematical or scientific data, you would automatically come up short. This leads to a discussion of President Trump’s attempt to legally challenge what is, as of now, the projected outcome of this year’s presidential election.
I am not a lawyer, but I do know that precedent is a significant part in deciding a legal case. Lawyers use law books and journals to find precedents, cases that were heard and decided in the past, to help argue for a decision in a current legal struggle. I believe this is what has caused many Trump supporters to let up in their hopefulness that our sitting president will win another four years and overturn the projected outcome. Although law scholars and professors still maintain that there is a path for President Trump to win the election, they generally err on the side of caution, saying that his window of time is narrowing or that it would take a perfect storm in order for the election to be thrown to the House, and we can’t count on that happening. That last refrain is what I have heard from Professor Alan Dershowitz and other legal personalities who see things strictly through the legal lens without being able to consider other elements that could end up playing a big role in the ultimate outcome of this election.
It wasn’t long ago, perhaps just a month ago, right before the November 3 election, when one of President Trump’s final rallies was being played on the computer in my father’s office. My father wrote about this in one of his editorials then: our president, whose religiosity has been called into question more than once, looked heavenward and invoked the help of the “Big Boss” on high, an acknowledgement we could forget about hearing from the mouths of the party that for all intents and purposes has removed G-d from the Pledge of Allegiance.
I mention this here because I opened this article by noting the collective sight impairment that we seem to be suffering; however, we are also one week into the month of Kislev, which is the month of light, life, and redemption. There is a notion in Chassidus wherein we can surpass our natural capabilities by surrendering completely to G-d. In last week’s parashah, regarding the digging of the wells, the Torah states: “G-d will broaden us and allow us to proliferate in the land” wherein the Lubavitcher Rebbe drives home this point — that if we acknowledge our powerlessness outside of G-d’s intervention in our lives, we could pull our energy and vitality not from our natural power bank but from that of the infinite one. The Rebbe writes that the pasuk itself is telling us that when it says “Hirchiv Hashem lanu,” that He has broadened our abilities, which will ultimately enable us to draw the world’s attention to the awareness of G-d and that only He could have performed the wonders that we had accomplished.
There is really no end to the examples of fate-altering events that should fill us with hope even at a time when circumstances lead to a more hopeless conclusion. Just two years, ago the Trump administration decided to commute the 27-year sentence of Rabbi Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin, bringing him home, free, to his family in a euphoric and celebratory fashion.
The decision to commute Rubashkin’s sentence was delivered on Zos Chanukah, which is the culmination of all the days of Chanukah. Sholom Mordechai recalls that just a day or two prior, as he was reciting Hallel from his cell, he received word that his last and final appeal was rejected and that he’d have to serve the remaining 19 years of his 27-year sentence. Rabbi Rubashkin retold then that his immediate reaction was now that he had exhausted all natural and legal means to effectuate his freedom from incarceration, he had cleared the way for G-d Himself to intervene and redeem him.
On Sunday, with the report that the Trump legal team’s appeal in a Pennsylvania court was dismissed, the reaction of the realists was that Trump’s attempts to reverse the election outcome seem to be going awry. The report from the legal team was that the swift decision to drop the case worked to their benefit in the quest to get it heard in the Supreme Court. My reaction was that this is one step closer before G-d Himself can intervene when all other legal recourse has been expended.
Lest you think this is an irrational approach, in a short video I saw on social media, frum attorney Ron Coleman, who at one time was part of President Trump’s reelection legal counsel, said that although he had no specific details to share at the moment, the unprecedented nature of this year as a whole filled him with a sense of hopefulness that the president will prevail.
One of the ways in which G-d is described in sefarim is “ein lo techilah v’ein lo tichleh,” meaning “He has no beginning or end.” In Kabbalah, G-d is said to transcend the limitations of “rosh, toch, v’sof,” which in more familiar terms would be past, present, and future. While we don’t know what lies ahead, the fact that these events are unanimously unique through the lens of history I believe puts it squarely in G-d’s jurisdiction.
So the more things seem to go against the president and his legal team, the more I am filled with hope that, iy’H, G-d will deliver the reelection in the most miraculous manner. To be clear though, this is not reliance upon a miracle, for the verse cited earlier—“G-d will broaden us and allow us to proliferate in the land”—says that He will expand our natural predisposition. To this end, I saw the following meme, which I believe says it all: “Wait until the Democrats find out that Trump is colluding with G-d.”
Yochanan Gordon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.