Last night, I was playing solitaire on my iPad just before 1 am. A headline came across the top of my screen - "President Trump tweets he has COVID 19." Immediately, I let out a "hah..." and then said, "Oh no..." My initial response was sort of "well, I guess that makes sense." Then I began to think about the United States and what it means when our president is sick. There have been a number of times in US history in which a president was incapable to continue, even if temporarily. We have a system in place that allows for the transfer of power, if necessary.
During my lifetime, there have been 3 times in which Vice Presidents have had to assume the role as acting President for medical procedures: On July 13, 1985 when President Reagan had surgery for colon cancer, On June 29, 2002 and July 21, 2007 when President George W. Bush underwent colonoscopies. Also, in 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Vice President Lyndon Johnson became the President. And when President Richard Nixon resigned in August 1974, Vice President Gerald Ford became President.
So, of course, what was going through my mind right off the bat was the succession line of the presidency. I was worried how President Trump's illness would affect the election. I was concerned about the President's health. I will say I did not sleep as well last night as I would have liked.
I often have Facebook open on one of my computer screens. It is a way for me to connect with colleagues, friends, family, and congregants. When I sat at my desk this morning, what I began to observe right away was a lot of my Facebook feed being filled with jokes and offensive statements regarding the health/life of President Trump. I do not think it is a mystery that I am a liberal...not far-left Liberal, but Democrat, none-the-less. As I have said many times, I consider myself to be a "blue-dog" Democrat. Anyway, I was truly taken aback by so many "karma" based comments and others like it. Is that what we do? Is that we believe? Do we really make fun of someone because they didn't take something seriously?
Ok, I am no angel. I am not perfect. I have, at times in my life, wished someone to be punished or to be given their "just reward." I was wrong. When we wish for bad things to happen to others, we are allowing ourselves to go down a very steep slope. As a people, Jews have been scapegoats for centuries. Have we wished revenge on those who have wronged us? Sure. But I also think of the Rabbi's prayer in "Fiddler on the Roof" when he is asked if there is a blessing for the Czar: "May God bless and keep the Czar far away from us."
President Donald Trump is not just President; he is also a human. And no matter how you feel about him personally, wishing him to be ill or worse is not ok. I will defend anyone's right to disagree politically with the President or anyone for that matter. I will also, just as strongly, denounce those who wish ill will, sickness or death on President Trump, or anyone else. Do I believe President Trump has spoken and acted in despicable ways? Yes, sure. That does not mean I wish him ill will.
A rabbinic story (from the Talmud) that has seemed to pop up quite a bit today is the following from Berachot 10a:
There were these hooligans in Rabbi Meir’s neighborhood who caused him a great deal of anguish. Rabbi Meir prayed for God to have mercy on them, that they should die. Rabbi Meir’s wife, Berurya, said to him: What is your thinking? On what basis do you pray for the death of these hooligans? Do you base yourself on the verse, as it is written: “Let sins cease from the land” (Psalms 104:35), which you interpret to mean that the world would be better if the wicked were destroyed? But is it written, let sinners cease?” Let sins cease, is written. One should pray for an end to their transgressions, not for the demise of the transgressors themselves.
Moreover, go to the end of the verse, where it says: “And the wicked will be no more.” If, as you suggest, transgressions shall cease refers to the demise of the evildoers, how is it possible that the wicked will be no more, i.e., that they will no longer be evil? Rather, pray for God to have mercy on them, that they should repent, as if they repent, then the wicked will be no more, as they will have repented.
Rabbi Meir saw that Berurya was correct and he prayed for God to have mercy on them, and they repented. (from https://www.sefaria.org/Berakhot.10a.2-5?lang=en)
What we learn from this story is that when we wish for bad things to happen to those we may consider wicked, we are wrong. What we should do, instead, is wish for those who are wicked to change their ways. Rather pray/wish for bad things to happen to them, wish for them to recognize the wickedness of their ways and to change.
May God send a speedy and full recovery, a Refuah Shleimah to President Trump, First Lady Melania Trump, and all of those in the world who have been or are afflicted with COVID 19 or any other sickness.
I am a husband, father and rabbi - just trying to help to make the world a better place!