Posted on October 24th, 2016

A Blessing for Voting

Are we commanded to vote?

As a regular respondent in Moment Magazine’s Ask the Rabbi column, when asked, I responded that yes indeed, it is a mitzvah – an obligation – to vote. While not commanded in Torah, I wrote

…voting is so important that one should sell one’s tefillin (phylacteries) —a symbol of one’s commitment to observing the mitzvot (commandments) —in order to do so. I would suggest that for us, today, voting is more than a right or a privilege. It is an obligation incumbent upon us as equal citizens in a democratic society.

During this election season I have been working hard to get out the vote, making phone calls to registered voters, encouraging them to exercise their right to vote. I receive a plethora of responses to my calls. Among the most distressing are those from people who tell me they do not plan to vote. I tell them, “Regardless of who you select, you must vote. It is your right, your obligation as a citizen of this country. If we really believe in democracy, it is incumbent upon each of us to let our voices be heard. We do that through our electoral process. Vote!”

The most pride-filled moments of these calls are when I speak with a young adult, an 18-19 year old, for whom I know this will be their first time voting in a presidential election. I ask, “are you excited about this opportunity to help select our next president?” I encourage them to take that responsibility seriously. I want to say, “Mazel tov!”

My instinctual “Mazel tov” response triggered something for me: I, as a voter, view this civic obligation also as a sacred act. It is worthy of a “congratulations!” In the same vein, perhaps it is worthy of a blessing as well.

Others have written kavannot (meditations) to be read before voting. Rabbi David Seidenberg wrote a Voting Prayer, and Michael Lerner has written a meditation before going to vote. Yet, neither of these are constructed as blessings in accordance with Jewish tradition, which should start with these words:

…ברוך אתה יי אלהינו מלך העולם

Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu, melekh ha-olam…

Blessed are you, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the Universe…

Our Jewish tradition helps us mark many sacred acts with blessings. We say blessings for both ritual experiences as well as for day-to-day occurrences which are worthy of being elevated to and set in a sacred frame, such as seeing a rainbow, eating a first fruit of the harvest, or meeting a wise scholar. Why not a blessing for voting?

So, I offer up this blessing:

ברוך אתה יי אלהינו מלך העולם שמצפה מאיתנו לעסוק בעבודת אזרחות המדינה

Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech haolam, she–me׳tzapeh me’itanu l’asok b’avodat ezrachut ha’medina.

Blessed are you, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the Universe, who expects us to engage as citizens in our country.

Perhaps when you step into the voting booth – or before you seal the envelope on that vote-by-mail ballot – you will feel compelled to sanctify the moment. Feel free to share this blessing with your communities as well!

We are blessed to live in a time and a place in which we as Jews can freely vote. Treat that obligation with the reverence such an act deserves – with a blessing.

Rabbi Laura Novak Winer, RJE, is the President of ARJE.