We're not just a nation; we're a nation family

Story highlights

  • After the election of Donald Trump, America is more polarized than ever
  • Rabbi Avi Weiss: To heal, Americans must treat each other as part of a larger family
  • The true test of a family isn't how we listen and care when we agree, but how we do so when we disagree, writes Weiss

Rabbi Avi Weiss is the founding rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, Bronx, NY. He is also the founder of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and Yeshivat Maharat rabbinical schools. The views expressed in this commentary are his alone.

(CNN)The election is over. Half of America is upbeat; the other half is deflated. The country is more polarized than ever. As a rabbi, I can only offer some words of spiritual reflection.

Our point of departure is the recognition that for many supporters of Hillary Clinton, this is a time of mourning -- mourning that the glass ceiling of a female United States President was not shattered; mourning that their "champion" was defeated; mourning that their dream for America has gone awry. For some, the disappointment is so great that it is similar to a grieving experience. At such times, the rabbis say, the pain is so deep, the loss so profound that no words of comfort will work.
Rabbi Avi Weiss
Still, as the Talmud records, "it is sufficient for a mourner to keep his or her period of mourning." In other words, there are times in life when one cannot avoid bereavement; it's built in and cannot be cast aside. In the same breath, the Talmud uses the phrase "it is sufficient" -- teaching that one should not elongate the mourning, one should do all he or she can to move forward.
    Certainly different people will mourn at different paces, but as many begin to move forward, I present a kind of post-election soulful prayer.
    I offer the prayer that we remain hopeful, hopeful that once assuming office, President Trump will be different than candidate Trump. We have seen this occur in the past; candidates, once assuming the presidency, transform.
    Many people were wary when Richard Nixon became president. Worried, amongst other concerns, that he was a war monger who would exacerbate the Cold War. His presidency, however, marked serious deflections from this presumption. Nixon was the first president to visit China since its establishment in 1949. He also traveled to Russia, initiating a policy of détente, or period of improved relations between the United States and then-Soviet Union.
    And many people were fearful when Ronald Reagan -- considered by many to be a loose cannon and known by all to have little experience in foreign relations -- assumed the presidency. He turned it around, becoming known as "the Great Communicator," skillfully, forcefully but eloquently demanding that the Soviets be true to human rights. The Cold War was grinding to a halt.
    My prayer of hope is that Trump experiences a similar transformation. Certainly he deserves -- as Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama gracefully said -- every chance to succeed.
    And then there is the prayer of faith, faith in the goodness of people. Clearly there are extremists on the right that are ecstatic that Trump won. But as there are extremists on the right, there are extremists on the left who supported Clinton.
    Here, it is crucial that we not paint over the millions of people who voted for Trump with the narrow brush of the fringe right. Similarly, it is critical we not paint all of the people who voted for Clinton with the narrow brush of the extreme left.
    Finally, I offer the prayer of trust, trust that the American system of government will work. This system declares that if a president steps over the line, overreaches, he or she will be held accountable. Not only will government and the judiciary hold the president accountable, but the people will do the same.
    This is what occurred when Presidents Nixon and Bill Clinton, each in their own way, abused the power of the presidency. In the end, democracy teaches that America is bigger, much bigger, than any president.
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    Most important, we can all play a role in bringing our nation together, in healing the wounds of a divisive election. We can do this by listening to those whose pain we feel, and those whose pain we have yet to feel. Listen to the angst of the unemployed auto worker who fears that he will no longer be able to afford his home, and listen to the fear of the American Muslim afraid of being villainized and attacked in the streets of her own city.
    Yes, America today is a polarized country. It needs healing. To heal, America must view itself not only as a nation, but as a nation-family. And the test of family is not how we listen and care for each other when we agree, but how we do so when we disagree. In this way, it may be possible to learn from each other, to give to each other, forging us into a greater, more United States.