Tehillim for Trump

Hakarat Hatov---Expressing Gratitude—is a fundamental Jewish principle.

Yehudah Brochin

Judaism (Tehilim (Psalms
(Tehilim (Psalms
Arutz 7

‘God said to Moshe, tell Aaron to take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt…that they shall become blood.’ (Shemot 7:19)

The commentators ask: ‘Why is Aaron the intermediary employed to bring about the first plague? It is because Moshe owed the waters of the Nile hakarat hatov, a debt of gratitude on account of the river having protected him when he was hidden as a baby; therefore it was not appropriate for him to strike the waters to initiate the plague of blood nor that of the frogs.’ (Rashi 7:19; and, Shemot Rabbah 9:10 and 10:4)

Hakarat hatov has been defined as not just an acknowledgement or recognition of the good that someone has done for a person, but rather encompasses a further dimension of expressing that gratitude to one’s benefactor--and even reciprocating that good when the opportunity arises. If Moshe’s sense of gratitude extended even to an inanimate object like the Nile, how much more so does it apply to a fellow human being who has performed good things for us?

When he recently addressed the Israel-American Council in Florida, President Trump declared that "the Jewish state has never had a better friend in the White House than your President, Donald J Trump." But unlike certain other bold assertions made by the President in the course of his presidency, this one was in fact an understatement. For as even a brief look at his record during the first three years of his term in office reveals, where others have made pompous campaign declarations on behalf of Israeli security, recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and support for the settlement enterprise, only President Trump has set policy to match his political pledges.

A quick review of his political and diplomatic actions bears that out:

The U.S. Embassy Move:  When Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act in 1995, they declared not only that the U.S. would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel, but also that the embassy would be moved to Jerusalem within five years. Yet, notwithstanding that Act of Congress, every president since that time found a way to emasculate the realization of that policy: President Clinton opposed the Act and accordingly exercised a waiver every six months to prevent its implementation; although President George W. Bush criticized President Clinton for not carrying out the embassy move, upon reaching the White House, he too backed down from his campaign promises; and even candidate Obama referred to Jerusalem as the 'capital of Israel', and after winning the Democratic nomination informed AIPAC that ‘Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided’, but the rest, as they say, is history---until President Trump.

As a candidate, President Trump pledged that one of his first acts as president would be to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. 

And he actually followed through.

But not without going out on an unprecedented political and diplomatic limb on behalf of the Jewish State. He was immediately inundated with phone calls from world leaders--including from U.S. allies in Western Europe and Gulf states-- warning of dire consequences if he moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. The Middle East would virtually explode if he carried out his pledge. Yet, President Trump was not deterred and is rumored to have even hung up on heads of state who opposed his move.

Withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal. Prime Minister Netanyahu repeatedly warned that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)--commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal--posed an existential threat to the State of Israel, and he not only addressed Congress over his concerns but also intensively lobbied the P5+1 signatories to the deal (China, France, Russia, the UK, the U.S. and Germany), to try stop it. He did not succeed, and it was not until President Trump came into office that U.S. policy made an about-turn resulting in the U.S. withdrawing from that dangerous deal. While it is true that Iran has had Gulf states and even European countries in its nuclear sights, it goes without saying that the primary ‘goal’ of Iran’s nuclear program has been to ‘wipe Israel off the map.’ President Trump’s daring diplomatic move has now had a ripple effect causing other JCPOA signatories to re-think their support for this flawed agreement.

Recognizing the dangers of the Iran deal, President Trump did not hesitate to brand it ‘a horrible one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made’, and he further bolstered U.S. pressure on Iran with crippling sanctions.

Israeli sovereignty over the Golan. In yet another reversal of long-held U.S. policy, on March 25, 2019, President Trump signed an Executive Proclamation recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, thus curtailing any further U.S. debate as to Syrian claims of territorial dominion. Again, his de facto directive on behalf of Israel was met with widespread criticism—including from certain U.S. Jewish organizations—yet he remained steadfast in his commitment to Israel’s security needs and preservation of its historic rights.

The ‘Pompeo Doctrine’. In addressing the Kohelet Policy Forum in Jerusalem earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared yet another major Trump administration policy shift favoring Israel’s security and political needs, by affirming that the settlements of Judea and Samaria do not inherently violate international law. For the first time since the Six Day War, the U.S. effectively recognized Jewish historic rights to Judea and Samaria and at the same time annulled the 1978 Hansell Memorandum, a legal opinion put forth by the Carter administration pursuant to which, Israeli settlement in Judea and Samaria was deemed ‘inconsistent with international law’.

The list of President Trump’s benevolence towards the State of Israel is much more extensive than what is recited above, but the real question is: what has he received from the Jewish people in return?

Clearly the sentiments of—and now impeachment prosecution by—the likes of Congressmen Schiff and Nadler along with Senator Schumer, aided and abetted by Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, hardly comport with the Jewish value of hakarat hatov. As Yitro expressed to his daughter, Tzipora, being the beneficiary of an act of kindness mandates an expression of gratitude in kind, if not an act of kindness in return.

Which brings us back to our original premise: Hakarat hatov is an obligation on the beneficiary, for no other reason than that he benefited. So how does one demonstrate hakarat hatov on behalf of the president of the United States who has befriended the Jewish people like no one before him, and who is now facing the trial of a lifetime before the U.S. Senate?

When a friend is ill or facing a crisis, it is the Jewish custom to recite Tehillim (psalms) on the person’s behalf. Choose a chapter and recite it every day.

For all that President Trump has done—and risked—on behalf of the Jewish people, it is the very least that we can do.