There are only three Patriarchs named in the Bible: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In the two millennia, from the creation of Adam until the birth of Abraham, only Enoch and Noah were called righteous men. Yet, even they both failed the ultimate test of leadership. They cared only for their own godliness and remained oblivious to the goodness of their fellowmen and women. In order to qualify to be a Patriarch, one had to demonstrate total personal integrity and show passionate concern for the welfare of others.
To become the founding father of a nation, one had to exemplify total faith, courage and commitment, empathy and loyalty for all people. He had to challenge the status quo; literally smash the false idols of his day and fight for truth, justice and righteousness. Truly, Abraham deserved that honor. He was the first iconoclast. He destroyed the idols of paganism and the mythological gods that continued to be worshiped throughout the Greek and Roman eras. He was the first man to preach and practice ethical monotheism.
It is insufficient to be a man of truth. He must convince his family and friends to join him on his holy mission. When we say he was willing to fight for his beliefs, Abraham actually led his troops into battle against Hammurabi (the Babylonian king and codifier) to save his nephew, Lot, and the five kings of the region. If we compare the heroic father of our country, George Washington, to the Biblical Patriarch, we see him leading the victorious revolt against the King of England. It is no coincidence that Mason Weems concocted the story of his chopping down the cherry tree, saying "I cannot tell a lie." We had to establish his honesty as well as his heroism.
All leaders require loyal followers to carry on their tradition. Isaac, the second Patriarch, perfectly fulfilled that role. He was renowned for his idealism, willingness to sacrifice, to serve as a conduit for his Father's tradition. So, too, from John Adams and Thomas Jefferson to Abraham Lincoln, our presidents carried on their predecessor's noble heritage.
Jacob received the blessing from his father. He got a bad rap as "the deceiver" for listening to his Mother's advice, pretending to be Esau, his older twin brother. But after all, both Sarah and Rebecca were prophetesses and instinctively knew the son who could best transmit the tradition. He was also an innovator; he wrestled with his conscience and emerged as the father of a united Israel. Similarly, Abraham Lincoln struggled with the problems of the Union and Confederacy in our country, abolishing slavery after leading the North to victory in the Civil War.
From Honest Abe through both World Wars, the presidents preserved the honor and tradition of America to the best of their ability. All of those dynamics changed during the thirty-seventh presidency. Since that time, the electorate swung like a metronome from one extreme to the other. Richard Milhous Nixon was acclaimed by his admirers to be the consummate politician. He spoke the language of diplomacy perfectly -- his utterances consisted of half- truths, half lies. To his detractors, he was the first president to lie explicitly in covering up his misdeeds. He no longer could handle the truth; indeed, he was incapable of speaking the truth from Watergate on. The public demanded someone more truthful. Jimmy Carter was so naïve, he could not believe the Russians were lying to him. He could not tell a lie, even for reasons of diplomacy. Ronald Wilson Reagan was a professional actor. He read his lines. Oh, he did it convincingly, inspirationally, dramatically -- but many critics believed he could not tell the difference between falsehood, propaganda and the facts. So, hyperbolically, we went from one who could not tell the truth, to one who could not tell a lie, to one who did not know the difference.
Number forty-one, George Herbert Walker Bush acted as if he knew the difference, but no one else did. On the contrary, his successor, William Jefferson Clinton, believed that he could redefine the limits of the truth -- remember his comment, "it all depends on what 'is' is."
Who would win the election of 2000? The people demanded "the truth." But they never got it. Four years later, the election was billed as "The Idiot versus the Liar." According to the pundits, both won.
In 2008, we wanted someone who sounded more intelligent and seemed to be more honest. The Democrats offered Hillary Clinton and Barack Hussein Obama. In my humble opinion, thanks in large measure to Oprah Winfrey, who opted for race over gender, and the late Ted Kennedy, who felt compelled to make America atone for its terrible sin of slavery, the young and idealistic overwhelmingly cast their vote for the latter. He has stated that "Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan will be judged by his deeds and not his words." So shall you, Mr. President. What happened to "Hope and Change?" Will you be "Trumped" by the economy?
It all depends upon the truth. Every president believes he is speaking the truth, as he perceives it. That is not enough. He must act upon the truth. One caveat -- the Patriarchs used their power of persuasion; they never forced their religion upon other nations. Our forty-third president insisted that our brand of democracy was best for every group, even those who had no understanding of it. As a result, the Palestinian elections were a fiasco, Iraq was a disaster and Afghanistan remains a quagmire.
Let President Obama continue to reference Reagan's bright promise for America's future, the Patriarchs' prophetic vision, Clinton's restoration of financial responsibility, but let him act truthfully. Without truth, there can be no justice, no peace. The Talmud pithily concludes, "Despised is the man who says what he does not mean and means what he does not say." Let us hope, pray and vote next year for the proper choice to lead America back to the ideals of truth, justice and peace.