Destructive Focus

When one learns Tanach, there are points which seem, at first glance, hard to understand. Many times this happens when we encounter something that runs entirely counter to our feelings and perception of how things ought to be. But the silence of those commentaries we look to when we are faced with difficulties understanding is deafening. Which leads to a conundrum: How is it that something which we cannot understand a bit does not seem to bother the Rishonim and early Acharonim at all?

Of course, the answer is simple. Think of a man who is looking at a painting in a gallery, and becomes convinced that the painting is hung crookedly. So long as he remains unaware of the true issue — that his head is tilted to the side — he will never see anything but the painting hanging in its crookedness.

I thought about this when looking over the Megillah this year. After Haman rose from relative obscurity to unparalleled greatness for a minister in Achashverosh’s court, to the degree that all people he passed in the street were mandated to prostrate themselves before him, he was still unhappy. Seeing how Mordechai Hayehudi did not bow, Haman came home and complained to his wife (and anyone else who would listen).

V’chol zeh einenu shaveh li — all this [that I have] does not mean anything to me (Esther 5:13) when I see Mordechai sitting at the palace gates.”

Haman had just delineated all that he had, and how far he had risen within the ranks of the king’s ministers, and his wealth and large family. He had also already gotten the king to agree to allow him to wipe out the entire Jewish nation — a decree, it stands to reason, that would include Mordechai as well.

And still, he could not get over the fact that he had not gotten everything he wanted. And it was ultimately this obsession with getting everything that Hakadosh Baruch Hu used to bring about his downfall.

What is hard to understand is how Haman, recognizing all that he had, got to the point where the one thing he did not have — although he knew he would get it eventually — made everything else seem worthless to him.

The answer, of course, as I alluded to earlier, is that there really is nothing challenging about this. The fact is that even people who have attained so much of their goals, and have made incredible strides toward goals that are well within their grasp, can feel as though they have nothing because they do not (yet) have everything they want.

A perfect case in point would be the Republican Party and its conservative base. Of course, it goes without saying that there is no comparison between the GOP and Haman Harasha, nor is the great nes of Purim comparable to electoral politics. But the current situation can serve as a teachable allegory for this very lesson.

Just think about it. Republicans — conservatives especially — were told by many, both in the media and in politics, that after the 2008 election, they needed to change if they did not want to become extinct. The party had only 199 seats in the House of Representatives, and were on the losing end of a veto-proof majority for a little while in the Senate. They had eight fewer governorships than the Democrats, and the Democrats controlled 13 more state legislatures.

The Republican Party changed. But not how they were told they needed to in order to survive. They became more conservative and less beholden to big business and special interests. Reform-minded candidates were put forward for governorships, and constitutionally conservative legislators were sent to the House and Senate.

Fast-forward to today, and the GOP has control of both chambers of Congress. They have 13 more governorships than the Democrats (a net gain of 21) and have totally obliterated Democrats on the state level, where Democrats only have control in 7 states.

Democrats are running an unpopular, almost-and-maybe-still-might-be indicted candidate for the presidency. The Republicans countered with 17 candidates of their own, almost all of whom could beat Hillary Clinton, and with control of the Congress, finally enact positive change.

So they are picking the only one that is trailing her in the polls.

But it makes sense. In the years building up to this point, conservatives were told how inept the party’s “establishment” was. And in some ways it was true. But this has led many to feel that the only option is to hitch their wagons to Trump’s and use him as a vehicle to destroy the entire party establishment and create something new and better in its place.

But they do not see all that they gained while they focus on what they did not. And what they see as an ideal outcome really is not one.

Edmund Burke, the ideological father of conservatism, wrote about people in his time who approached problems in ways not unlike Trump’s supporters. It is important to remember that “he that sets his home on fire because his fingers are frostbitten can never be a fit instructor in the method of providing our habitations with a cheerful and salutary warmth.”

The same applies today. Especially today, when conservatives are so close to getting everything they wanted, burning everything down does not seem like the prudent course of action to take if you want a “cheerful and salutary warmth.”

But then again, some people just want to watch things burn.