There is a fascinating story told about the 20th century Israeli rabbi, the Chazon Ish. On Election Day, the Chazon Ish ran into a fellow Jew. “Did you vote yet” inquired the Chazon Ish. The person responded, “No.” “Why not,” the Chazon Ish persisted. The person responded, “I don’t have the three Israeli pounds to pay the poll tax.” The Chazon Ish would not give up. “Do you own a pair of tefillin,” he continued. “Of course,” the person replied. “Well, go and sell your pair of tefillin and use the funds to pay the poll tax so that you can go and vote,” said the Chazon Ish.
The Chazon Ish later explained that wearing tefillin is a mitzvah, but voting in the election is also a mitzvah. He was not worried that this Jew would not put on tefillin. If need be, he would borrow a pair. But he was afraid that this person would not perform this other mitzvah – voting in the election.
For the Chazon Ish, voting was so important that it superseded owning tefillin, which is used on a daily basis. His stated reason was because the person could easily borrow tefillin. But I also wonder if the Chazon Ish was making a broader point – that elections impact the day to day lives of every person in society. Just like tefillin, our vote matters not only on the day of the election, but every day after it until the next one.
It’s appropriate that we are in the midst of an election in our city at this time of year when we read all about the building of the Mishkan. Our rabbis tell a fascinating story about how Bezalel was chosen to be the architect of the Mishkan (Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 55a):
Rabbi Isaac said: One does not appoint a leader for a community without consulting the community, as it is written, “See, the Eternal has singled out by name Betzalel” (Exodus 35:30). The Holy One said to Moses, “Moses, is Bezalel worthy in your opinion to be a leader?” Moses answered to God, “Ruler of the Universe, if he is worthy before You, how could he possibly not be worthy before me?” God said to him, “Even so, go and ask them.”
God, according to this midrash, wanted the people’s opinion. God easily could have said – this is all about how my House, the Mishkan, will look. The people don’t have a vote. But God says the opposite – the most sacred place on earth needs to be built on the foundation of the elected trust of the people.
So come election day, I hope that you put on tefillin. If you need to borrow a set, I’ll take care of you. And most importantly, I hope that we all go out to vote. Because our community, our sacred place, needs to hear your voice.