There is one thing we can all agree on this election season: how stressful it is. At least half of U.S. adults feel very or somewhat stressed about the election, according to the American Psychological Association. The election keeps us up at night, and raises our blood pressure. We are weary of discussing politics with people with whom we disagree for fear of the response. We count down the days to November 8 with both trepidation and a sigh of relief, as it election draws near. We do his despite knowing that our anxieties are unlikely to vanish even after election day, no matter the outcome.
So how do we cope with such enormous stress? Judaism offers some insight:
For six days God created the world, and on the seventh day God rested. After about 6 minutes of a political debate, I need to rest, and yet our 24-hour all pervasive news coverage rarely gives us an opportunity to get away.
We need not travel to Boston’s Hotel Commonwealth and take advantage of their Election Escape package to find our escape from the commotion. Far before the hotel began blocking news channels and removing political news from all papers, the Jews invented Shabbat: an opportunity to turn off our computers, radios and televisions for one full day each week.
Instead of stressing over politics, we eat and we pray. We study Torah and go for walks in nature. We nap and we read and we spend time with people we love. We feel the love and embrace of the larger Jewish community. We refocus, and connect to the many blessings in our lives each and every day. Who of us couldn’t use a little Shabbat in our lives? As Ahad Ha’am said “More than the Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews.” This election cycle, Shabbat may keep our sanity as well.
Judaism teaches of the importance of blessings. Each morning as we rise, we offer the words “Modeh Ani,” which express how grateful we are to be alive. We begin our day with words of gratitude and celebration. Sages teach a spiritual practice of saying 100 blessings every day. That’s no easy task, let me tell you. It requires opening ourselves up to blessings at every moment of the day. It pushes us to connect to the world around us: the color leaves circling in the air, the shape of the clouds, or the stunning constellations overhead. It compels us to consider and be thankful for every bite of food we consume. We pause to take in the tranquility in the quiet that fills the house when children are comfortably asleep. Sometimes we begin to find blessings in places we least expect them: blessings that our children feel comfortable enough at home to throw a full blown tantrum over the spots on their bananas or extinction of dinosaurs; or of our ability to get everything done despite 3 hours of sleep the night before.
When we offer 100 blessings a day, our entire way of looking at the world changes. We become more relaxed, more accepting, and more prepared for whatever lies ahead.
To be Jewish is to be part of a community. When a baby is born, we celebrate together. When a child becomes a Bar or Bat Mitzvah the community comes together. Weddings include witnesses, as do divorces. When we lose people we love, the community rallies around us, offering us food, comfort, and standing with us as we say the words of the mourner’s kaddish. It doesn’t matter what our political beliefs are. We are all one family.
At this time of stress, we gather, knowing that whatever happens, we will move forward together.
The 2016 election is stressful. And yet, Judaism reminds us that we have so many important coping techniques already build into our lives. In addition to having family and friends, hobbies and a wide assortment of interests, we have Shabbat, blessings of gratitude, and the embrace of a larger Jewish community. We also have the power of our voices.
As Jews and as Americans, we have a lot at stake in this election. The Jewish vote matters precisely because the Jewish community does vote. We exercise our right to express our concerns and cast our ballot according to them. If we want our voices to matter, we have to continue to use them. We have to vote come November 8. In so doing, we do our part to create a country that we wish to see (or not see) for the next four years.
But until then, take care. Celebrate Shabbat. Pray. Read. Spend time with those you love. We’ll get through it, together.