When Ted Cruz announced that he was going to vote for Donald Trump, many conservatives were in shock. The man whose entire brand was standing on principle no matter the consequences, whose uniqueness was that he didn’t “sell out” for political expediency, apparently just did.
For people who felt the way Cruz spoke about the conservative movement, that day was a sad one. They had lost their spokesman, the person who gave voice to their beliefs. Now, with him compromised, there was no longer anyone as high-profile as he who could advance the conservative cause.
Rick Tyler, a former campaign operative for Cruz’s presidential campaign, who was such a believer in Cruz that he remained a loyal advocate for the Texas senator even after he was dismissed during the primary, put it best. “It’s mourning in America for conservatives,” he said. “We lost our leader today.”
Regular readers of this space who have read my missives about the candidates will know that I sympathize with Mr. Tyler. But where I part ways with him is that the conservative movement needs to “mourn” the loss of Senator Cruz as a “leader.”
The idea that the country needed a transformative figure (like Cruz) in the Oval Office to set things right again is simply not true. Conservatives like Tyler would know that while politics does have an effect on society (which was one of the main reasons I was happy to have a candidate like Cruz in the race), societal transformation is not “legislated” from the top down.
The idea that all we needed to do to win the culture back was elect someone president is, to be blunt, lazy thinking. This is not a war that can be won from the air; it will need to be won on the ground. A president who thinks as we do would help, yes, but electing one is not in and of itself a winning strategy.
It is said that the Chofetz Chaim remarked that man sets out to change the world, and finds the task to be impossible. He then tries to change his country, but finds that to be beyond his scope of power as well. His city, his neighborhood, and his street prove to be too much, and he even realizes that he can’t change his own family. When he begins to focus on the one thing he can change — himself — he has an effect that causes his family to change, his street, his neighborhood and so forth, until he manages to change the world.
It’s true both about ruchniyus and, l’havdil, about any positive ideological changes. The only real way you can affect other people is by example; you need to let them see in you the argument you are trying to bring to the world. Only then can you get them to want to change themselves.
And they need to be the ones who change themselves — other people can’t do it for them. This is especially important to keep in mind as we approach Yom Kippur, a day of teshuvah and kapparas avonos. As Rabi Elazar ben Durdaya taught us (Avodah Zarah 17a), “Ein hadaver taluy elah bi — the thing [teshuvah] is dependent on myself alone.”
There’s a perplexing Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 78:7) that, once understood, serves to underscore this point. The Midrash relates that the king of beasts — the lion — was angry at his “subjects.” So they got together and they appointed the fox to appease him. They were confident in the fox’s ability; after all, he knew 300 parables with which he could appease the lion.
And so they all went along with the fox. On the way, the fox stopped. “What’s wrong?” they asked. “I forgot 100 of the parables,” he replied. “It’s okay,” they said. “You still know 200 more.”
A little while later he stopped ONCE Monce more, again forgetting 100 of the parables. But they continued, confident that his last hundred would be enough.
At the gates of the lion’s den, he stopped again. “I forgot them all!” he exclaimed. “Kol chad v’chad yefayes al nafshei — everyone has to take care of themselves!”
The Midrash continues by applying the allegory to Yaakov Avinu. He prepared to take care of his family using doron, tefillah and milchamah. But at the end of the day, when facing Esav, says the Midrash, “Kol inish v’inish dachvasah t’kum leh — every person needs to stand on their own merits.”
The Brisker Rav quoted this Midrash when he was in Vilna on the eve of the Holocaust. (See The Brisker Rav, p. 452, for the full context.) There are times when all the tactics we normally use to influence our situation in a practical sense don’t create the results we would like them to. All that’s left is every man, and his own zechuyos, for himself.
The Noam Elimelech told his Chassidim, who had hoped that being with him on Yom Kippur would help them merit a good year, that it doesn’t work that way. Quoting this Midrash, he told them, “Kol inish v’inish dachvasah t’kum leh.”
We search for so many segulos in order to merit a good year. But at the end of the day, while segulos can help, the ultimate decider will be the hard work we, and we alone, do in repenting for our sins and resolving to be better. In realizing that it is truly only ever dependent on our own work, we can properly focus our efforts, and be zocheh to a teshuvah sheleimah.