Escape to Canada: A Rabbinic Consideration

Headline: Escape plan: How to Move to Canada if the Election Doesn’t Go Your Way

A Personal Response with the aid of Rabbinic Tradition

Talk about escaping to Canada if one’s preferred candidate does not win the election is plentiful.   It has been plentiful before, when George Bush was re-elected, after 9/11 and so on. No doubt escape hatches will be touted again and again. This calls to my mind rabbinic commentary on the story of Elimelech and his wife Naomi.   What follows is not a political statement, but a rumination on where the consequences of escape touch upon my personal life.

In the book of Ruth, in the space of the first 5 verses, we learn the following: There was a famine in Bethlehem, in the land of Israel; Elimelech and his wife Naomi leave Bethlehem with their two sons to sojourn in Moab; Elimelech dies; their two sons die without offspring; Naomi survives alone. This is clearly a tragedy.   The text tells us how tragic by this: “And the woman was left of her two children and of her husband” (Ruth 1:5). Naomi was so bereft that in losing her husband and her two children, she lost her identity, indeed her very name. She is left like a remnant.   “R. Hanina said: She was left as the remnants of the remnants [of the meal offering].” (Ruth Rabbah).   I mention this so that we don’t overlook the fact that the real tragedy of this moment is on the shoulders of Naomi, who is embittered and alone.

The rabbis interpret that the deaths were a punishment for Elimelech (and I would add Naomi and the children) for leaving the land of the famine. “Why then was Elimelech punished? Because he struck despair into the hearts of Israel… He was one of the notables of his place and one of the leaders of his generation. But when the famine came he said, ‘Now all Israel will come knocking on my door, each one with his basket [for food].’ He therefore arose and fled from them.” (Ruth Rabbah). Elimelech left behind those suffering from famine, rather than taking responsibility for the people of his country.

As I said, talk of escaping to Canada brings this story to my mind, but whether those who might flee this country (now or in the future) are unsafe in remaining, entitled to a better future, or should be frowned upon for leaving behind those less fortunate, is not for me to judge and is not the point of my re-telling.   The story leads me personally to my relationship to my Jewish community, to the shul wherein I daven and take on various leadership roles. Two years into my president emerita status and I feel very much like escaping, if not literally from the campus, internally from all responsibility. There are many things I don’t like about how the organization is run, how volunteers are recruited and nourished, and how visions are created (as in NOT). In fact I have been internally escaping for some time.

The response of the rabbis to Elimelech pulls me up short. Not because I am afraid of punishment as such. But I need to think very carefully about my responsibility to the people in my own small country, the land of my shul. These are folks who have nourished me, and whom I have nourished.   According to the teaching in Ruth Rabbah, one does not flee from those whom want might be able to help. Is this a moment to double down on my efforts to work with others to create a better community? Or is the a moment to go sojourn in Moab?   Not sure about this yet, but I do know I’m not moving to Canada any time soon.