I have been reading about Senator John McCain. I have always admired his unrivaled courage–I recall his decision to remain in a Vietnam prison and not abandon his fellow POW’s, his devotion to principles–I remember in particular his arguments against the torture of suspected terrorists, and his devotion to our country–I cannot forget his concession speech after losing the 2008 election to Barack Obama.
That speech, and that moment, remains one of the greatest moments of American democracy. After elections, the victors speak about grand promises and future hopes. The losers lean on values and ideals. McCain’s character emerges. He said:
It is natural tonight to feel some disappointment, but tomorrow we must move beyond it and work together to get our country moving again. We fought — we fought as hard as we could. And though we fell short, the failure is mine, not yours.
That is leadership. “The failure is mine.” I recall, as well, when McCain silenced a heckler who booed when Obama’s name was said. The Senator then said:
I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him, but offering our next president our goodwill and earnest effort to find ways to come together, to find the necessary compromises, to bridge our differences and help restore our prosperity, defend our security in a dangerous world, and leave our children and grandchildren a stronger, better country than we inherited. Whatever our differences, we are fellow Americans. And please believe me when I say no association has ever meant more to me than that.
We are all Americans, whatever our differences. Ten years later, McCain’s words serve as a reminder of what is great about the country we call home.
And I call on all Americans, as I have often in this campaign, to not despair of our present difficulties but to believe always in the promise and greatness of America, because nothing is inevitable here. Americans never quit. We never surrender. We never hide from history. We make history.
The Torah offers the Israelites detailed instructions about what they are to do when they enter the land. They are to offer the first fruits of the harvest. They are also to engrave these teachings on stones so that all will be reminded of our commitments. It is teachings and commitments, values and ideals, that will make the land of Israel holy.
Today, I am holding on to John McCain’s words. I am going to engrave them on my heart.
In defeat, he achieved a measure of greatness few of us accomplish in victory. He reminded us, even years later, of America’s greatness.
It is about what we believe. It is about the ideals we cherish. It is about the words we engrave.
Rabbi Steven Heneson Moskowitz is the rabbi of Congregation L’Dor V’Dor, a vibrant synagogue on Long Island’s North Shore. His writing appears in a variety of publications including Reform Judaism and The Times of Israel. He also blogs at rabbimoskowitz.com