How To Be A “Mensch”

In Jewish culture, there’s no higher compliment you can pay than to say of someone: “they’re a mensch“. A mensch has honor and integrity. They’re kind and compassionate. They don’t just feel a sense of responsibility toward others, they act on it. “A mensch is driven by an innate decency, motivated perhaps by a sense of values to live up to but not out of regard for recognition. They will act as a mensch at times when it may be hard to be one.” The thing about being a mensch is, the moment you try hard “to be one”, it means you’re almost certainly not one because the last thing a real mensch would ever do is seek praise or reward for being a mensch. How menschy is that?

Plenty of rich people aspire to be mensches. They think throwing their money at things makes them menschy — even if they created some of those problems. That disqualified them for mensch-hood right off the bat.

Joe Biden has always had mensch-like qualities — the result (ironically) of his deep Catholic faith. That makes Joe Biden exceptional. Catholic instruction turns a lot of people into thought zombies. You have to accept an awful lot of dogmatic shadow chasing in order to be a “good Catholic”. And the church has a long, long history of being cruel and as un-Jesus-like as an institution could be. That’s probably why Jesus railed AGAINTS having temples or churches or priests interceding between believer and God. “Speak directly to the father,” was Jesus’s message. That and “Do unto others” (which even a simple atheist can manage — so, why can’t most Christians?). “Do unto others” is a kind of shorthand for “how to be a mensch” which, itself, is the perfect encapsulation of the core Jewish concept “Tikkun Olam“.

Tikkun Olam obligates every Jew (well, every person actually) to make the world a better place simply for having been in it. That’s it. That’s the obligation. How any of us meets it is entirely on us.

Mensch-like as Biden has been all his life, he’s backed some policies that were completely UN-mensch-like. “Biden opposed school busing for desegregation in the 1970s. He voted for a measure aimed at outlawing gay marriage in the 1990s. He was an ally of the banking and credit card industries.” Still, it was Biden’s menschiness, I think, that made him a strong choice for Barack Obama (being a compassionate man himself — with plenty of mensch bona fides of his own).

Centrist though he’s been his whole life — trying to find common ground between Progressives and conservatives — Biden became Progressivism’s standard bearer, a thing I’m not sure any Progressive anticipated. Biden certainly wasn’t my first choice as the primaries ran along. I liked Kamala then Liz Warren. Biden, as he rose, Phoenix-like from the ashes, seemed like the compromise Progressives always have to make — which is to say they give up nearly everything. in order to appease the middle. But, that was when Biden either became a mensch or his menschiness was revealed. He saw that the majority of Democratic voters wanted what the Progressives did. Instead of digging in his heels, he listened. And heard.

That is what mensches do: they “hear”.

And then they do something to manifest their menschiness here in reality. And the world, instantly (even in some small way) becomes a better place.

Biden has already made the world a better place (just for having been the POTUS in it). He cut childhood poverty in America in half! And every other bit of the Build Back Better plan is geared toward transforming America from the great idea (“All men are created equal”) as yet unrealized into a nation where E Pluribus Unum blooms. America’s diversity is what makes us exceptional, not the whiteness of our money. The reason so many people from all across the globe have done everything they could to get here is because of the promise E Pluribus Unum holds.

America itself has always had the potential to be a mensch among nations (provided we cam disconnect ourselves from America’s racist past). In a sense, the world has come to rely on that potential. The Trump presidency, of course, burned all that accumulated trust to the ground — by design. The Biden presidency immediately set to work rebuilding it because America and Americans want our government to be the mensch we need when we need.

Electing Biden brought menschiness into the public square. Doing everything we can to help Biden enact every bit of his menschy legislative agenda is incumbent on us. Imagine an America where the playing field was truly level for everyone. Where opportunity smiles on all equally. Sounds like a mensch’s “Mission Accomplished”.

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