Where would you go if you needed a place to calm down? A park? A museum? Perhaps you are among the fortunate ones for whom a beis medrash is the greatest source of resuscitation. But would anyone consider a cemetery a great place to wind down?
Well, a pious man who lived more than 1,500 years ago did. You see, a pauper came knocking at his door. It was a year of famine, but this pious man had compassion and gave some money to the pauper. The woman of the home, though, was not happy with the largesse and she let her husband know it. So he decided to spend the night in the cemetery. Sounds too strange? Take a look in Brachos 18b and you can see for yourself. While there, the Gemara continues, this pious man heard two spirits conversing about the Heavenly decrees for the upcoming year. With this inside information, the pious man was able to plan accordingly. While everyone’s crops suffered terribly, his did wonderfully.
Now did this whole scenario really happen? Did the pious man really spend the night in a cemetery? The Maharsha says not. “It cannot be,” insists the Maharsha, “that a pious man would spend a night in a cemetery which is a place of tumah (ritual impurity). What the Gemara means is that he dreamt the whole thing. It was Rosh Hashanah night — when dreams can carry much, much more significance than usual — and Heaven revealed to this pious man what was being decreed for the new year.”
Believe it or not, this discussion is going to tie in to the current United States presidential race. Fast forward to Brachos 55a: “Said Rav Yehudah in the name of Rav: Three things require mercy (i.e. prayer): a good year, a good dream, a good king.” The Maharsha explains that this statement is in reference to Rosh Hashanah; the “good year” part being the obvious tip-off. Having reviewed the Maharsha’s explanation of the pious man spending the night in the cemetery, we already know what the “good dream” part is about too: dreams on Rosh Hashanah can carry a lot more weight, so when you say Hamapil on the night of Rosh Hashanah, have extra-special concentration. “And the good king matter,” elaborates the Maharsha, “is also directly related to Rosh Hashanah. On the day that He expresses his sovereignty over the world, Hashem determines who the world leaders shall be.” As Chazal tell us (also in Brachos, 58a, and it comes with a fascinating story): Earthly monarchy reflects Heavenly Monarchy.
With the U.S. presidential elections scheduled to take place just over a month after Rosh Hashanah, this message can and should feel quite pertinent.
Now, before you jump to any erroneous conclusions about what I’m trying to say, let me make one point clear: In no way am I trying to imply that there’s no point in casting your ballot. Our Torah leaders throughout the generations have taught us that shtadlanus — making every effort in the realm of political activism to better our lot — is a genuine Jewish value. We can only ask Hashem for help when we do what is in our power to help ourselves.
That being said, the upcoming election does seem to underscore the need for fervent prayer. With one contender oft-called a “serial liar” and the other a “loose cannon,” it isn’t so easy to determine whom we’re better off with. Yes, it goes without saying that die-hard Democrats will argue till they faint on their way out of the 9/11 Memorial that their candidate is the only one who really cares about people and the other is a megalomaniacal glory-seeker who made his big bucks off the backs of hard-working Americans. And almost every hard-nosed Republican will, in the end, cast his fate with their only choice of “Make America Great Again” (coupled with private groans, gasps, and hair-pulls). But if we try to look at this objectively, it isn’t such an easy call, is it?
From that vantage point — and bearing in mind the extremely volatile state of global affairs — it’s reasonable to have a heightened sense of urgency in asking Hashem to provide for a good leader. And, it’s worth mentioning, this is not only the interest of U.S. citizens or those who live in Israel. America still holds the title of world’s greatest superpower, if somewhat tenuously, and the goings-on there can and do have profound effects the world over.
The point that I really am trying to make, though, is that we Yidden are the title-holders of the world’s most super-fortunate people. Even when politicians and pundits are up in arms trying to make sense of a topsy-turvy world, we take great encouragement in knowing that, ultimately, “the heart of the king is in the Hand of Hashem.”
. Mishlei 21:1