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If voting doesn't do anything, should one vote?


All translations below are my own.

Lev Melech B'Yad Hashem

Shlomo HaMelech tells us (Mishlei 21:1):

פלגי מים לב מלך ביד יהוה על כל אשר יחפץ יטנו
[Like] streams of water is the heart of a king in the hand of Hashem: toward whatever He wants He turns it.

The commentators seem to understand this to mean that Hashem influences world policy through the leaders of the world. Take, for instance, the Ralbag:

כי פעולות המלך ומחשבותיו הם מוגבלות מהש''י והוא כמו שליח הש''י במה שיעשהו מדבר המלכות
...for the actions of the king and his thoughts originated from Hashem, blessed be He. He is like an agent of Hashem, blessed be He, in that which he does through his power of kingship...

You can debate all you want whether a president is considered a king. But it's completely irrelevant. If the statement is that it's ultimately Hashem dictating policy, then whichever candidate gets elected will do the same policies. Or, if you have a hard time swallowing that Trump will keep Obamacare or Hillary will build a wall, then perhaps you could say that Hashem will influence the election to elect His desired candidate with His desired policies. Either way, the effect is the same: Why should I be voting tomorrow if my vote doesn't matter? According to the first formulation, whoever wins the election will enact the same policies. According to the second formulation, you can't beat Hashem at rigging the elections. (Go tell that to Trump.)

Mathematically Pointless

According to Wikipedia, there were 235,248,000-odd eligible voters in the 2012 election, under 130,000,000 of which actually voted. No matter how you slice these facts, my individual vote is pointless. Even in a vote of 100,000 people my vote doesn't make such a big difference: certainly in a vote of over 1000% that size does it not make a difference.

Please don't tell me "If everyone followed that logic we wouldn't have anyone voting." That may very well be true. But until that point my vote doesn't matter. When the numbers change then we can knock this point off the list. Our country will probably be in deep trouble at that point as well.

So, then, if my vote doesn't count any more than a grain of sand on the beach, why should I bother doing my hishtadlus? It's not called hishtadlus if it doesn't matter what I choose. The choice, then, of whether to vote is the same as the choice of who to vote for. Regardless of my decision, the result will be the same.

In summary, then, should I vote, if from a hashkafic perspective it seems pointless?

Edit: There are several good points raised in the answers, but none of them satisfactorily answer the question. To clarify, I'm looking for an answer that not only satisfactorily explains why I have to vote but also why I have to vote for an actual candidate rather than Mickey Mouse.

Why should this post be closed?


5 answers


In an apparently-open letter dated October 3, 1984, R' Moshe Feinstein urged Jews in the United States to vote as a means of expressing hakaras hatov (appreciation) for the democratic system in the United States, which allows for a safe haven in which Jews can live and practice Judaism. The letter did not say anything about influencing government policy.



Rabbi Dessler in Michtav M'Eliyahu explains that "free will" is manifested by the "point of choice". Rabbi Isbee of Ner Yisrael has said that only two entities in this world exhibit free choice, Hashem and living humanity. In this case it does not matter that the results may appear to be independent of the choice being made but that the person has made the choice and has exhibited his hishtadlus by doing so.

My Rav also explained that by voting a person is showing his "citizenship" and that he is acting as a good and valid member of the society. In that case, it is his actions that matter, even though it appears that he can accomplish nothing.

Yes, the individual vote appears to be mathematically insignificant, but consider the analogy of the tenth person who did not stand up in S'dom to allow Avraham to save the cities or the one person who could have joined Noach to prevent the mabul. Note that Hashem delayed the mabul until after Mesushelach died even thogh he was only one person among however many millions there were in the world.

We see that we are told to act as if the entire world has been placed in exact balance and our actions will place the weight in on scale or the other. Rabbi Dessler explains that not only is a person to treat himself as if he is at the tipping point, but that the entire world will depend on the next action that the individual chooses to make.

One can never know how what appears to be an insignificant action can change the world. We can call it the butterfly effect.

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The verse Lev melech beyad hashem refers to a step in which you have no bechira: After the nomination of the King, we need to see every action of the king as a realization of the intent of HaShem. [see Rabenu Yona on Avot 2, 3] 02

But in a previous step, before the election, this vision is erroneous. If a candidate "A" says "I will make an action "f" and you disapprove this action, you must see your duty as a duty to act against "A". If "A" becomes president because of your lack of opposition, you may be regarded as a shutaf of the action "f", as the famous expression: פרתו של רבי אלעזר בן עזריה in Mishna betsa (2, 8) and Shabbat (5, 4).

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Rav Herschel Schachter in a "press conference" said in talking about Daas Torah whether Rabbis have the right to or authority to give their opinion in politics, or whether to vote is itself an obligation.

Rav Shachter explained that it would be allowed for a Rav to “pasken” - rule, on whether to vote or not, or for whom to vote. For it is considered proper hishtadlus - effort. And since it is hishtadlus, it falls into the realm of spiritual affairs. And Rabbis are considered sources of counsel and wisdom regarding spiritual matters.

Therefore, the extrapolation is that, despite the mathematical insignificance, being that everyone is expected to employ his own personal histadlus, regardless of the outcome - It would be incumbent upon each person to fulfill their chiyuv hishtadlus. Irrespective of the result.

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It would seem that it is proper to consider the consequences of your actions as if they were amplified by the public doing the same.

The case brought down in the Talmud is removing a single sliver of wood from a fence. Removing the sliver doesn't bother the owner since it has no impact on the fence. However, if many people would each take a sliver from the fence, the fence would be demolished. While the Babylonian Talmud permits it, the Yerushalmi is stringent. The later authorities rule that while not strictly forbidden, it is considered improper to remove the sliver. (Shulchan Aruch 359:1)

One could make an analogy to voting. True, my vote doesn't count. But if all of us would think that way, we would lose a significant voice in the country. Therefore, it is only responsible for me to do my part as a part of the public and vote.

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