By Rabbi Michael Berk
At the National Prayer Breakfast a few weeks ago, Donald Trump offended every religious person in America. And he demonstrated that he doesn’t have any feeling for religion, or understanding of what it means for a person to have a relationship with God and be a part of a faith community. When it comes to religion, truly he is clueless.
In snide and nasty comments, Trump said that he doesn’t like people who use faith to justify what’s wrong (an attack on Sen. Mitt Romney), nor does he like people who say they pray for you when they really don’t (an attack against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi). In these two comments about people whom we know to be religious, Trump reveals he doesn’t understand what it means to pray or have a relationship with God.
That so many people who claim to be religious heard these comments and continue to support Trump is simply astonishing. It makes you question just how seriously they take their religion. There is something Faustian about how they ignore his offenses against everything their faiths believe in and teach.
No one, as far as I know, has ever accused Trump of being religious. It is hard to imagine how anyone who has the slightest feeling of spirituality or religiosity could say, as Trump once did, that he never says he’s sorry — that he has never asked God for forgiveness because he’s never had anything to apologize for.
It’s that complete detachment from religion that makes it impossible for him to understand a person of faith. He has no understanding of how it could be that someone might pray for their enemy, or how someone might find strength from faith to stand up to power—to risk everything for what their faith says is the right thing, the godly thing, to do.
In Jewish synagogues, there’s an ancient saying that is often placed above the holy ark (in which we place the Torah, the five books of Moses): “Know before whom you stand.” When placed above the ark, it is in front of the congregation when it worships, and reminds them that what they are doing is serious, because they are in conversation with the Holy One.
Donald Trump has no sense of the divine; he has no sense of the holy. He has no idea what it is to feel that you are standing before the very presence of God. But Sen. Romney does.
Why did Romney vote to convict President Trump on the first article of impeachment? Because he took a vow invoking the name of God. That’s very serious. To break that kind of vow is to violate one of the Ten Commandments—taking God’s name in vain.
Romney is serious about his faith. Life would be a lot easier for him right now if he wasn’t, but he is more afraid of God than Donald Trump.
From what we know about him, it is impossible for Trump to understand a person of this kind of faith. Trump has no idea what it means to serve an ideal greater than himself. He has no idea about how a religious person lives life wondering, “What does God want from me?”
Michael Berk is Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Beth Israel, the largest Jewish congregation in San Diego and the oldest in Southern California.
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