It’s not my job to write about politics.

I mean, I can hold my own in your typical on-the-way-out-of-shul conversation, speculate and pontificate like any other yeshivah guy, but I don’t really get many of the terms. Like, if I was sitting at the table with Binyamin Rose, Eytan Kobre, or Yonoson Rosenblum, I would probably just say Hamapil and stay safe — maybe feign laryngitis. 

Yeah, I know the parties and the main issues, I know which is red and which is blue, but I can’t really drop terms like “conservative Democrat” or “Reagan Republican” with a straight face. 

And yet, I interviewed the most talked-about figure in recent presidential politics, actually enjoyed an intense 20-odd-minute conversation with him — an opportunity given to precious few in print media over the last year, and certainly to no one in the Orthodox community. (If anyone else says they interviewed him, well, you know the old Yiddish joke: If you see a poor man eating chicken, it means one of them is sick. Either the publication isn’t busy with accuracy or it wasn’t the real deal.) Over the last two months, I’ve been on the receiving end of all sorts of reactions — some critical (“How could you do that?”), some complimentary (“How did you get that?”), some just curious. 

But almost everyone was intrigued by him, the man and his ideas. 

I’ve already written about the positives — his graciousness, grasp of issues, refreshingly pro-Israel ideas, and the human side rarely picked up by the cameras. Now, I’d like to explain my fascination with the phenomenon, why Donald Trump interests us, and suggest some of the lessons in the Trump saga that are relevant to contemporary life. 

One, regarding the media and its role: New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof penned an apologetic piece about how “The Media Helped Make Trump.” He was among the first to point out what would become obvious — that Trump manipulated the media, owning the news cycle without putting down a dime. By the time the writers realized what they’d done, Trump was laughing from the perch of presumptive nominee. 

I feel bad. I could have saved Mr. Kristof and his colleagues so much trouble. A number of years ago, there was an Orthodox Knesset member who ignobly joined a political party that had made a compulsory draft for yeshivah bochurim its platform. He became a surrogate for a leader whose signature legislation included attempts to cut funding from chareidi families and slash services — things like day camp — for chareidi children. We, in the magazine, planned a full court press; it was one thing for a secular politician who didn’t know better, but for a yeshivah graduate? At the very least, we felt, he should be shamed into admitting his true motives (Which were? Who knows…) and stop proclaiming himself savior of the chareidim. 

A wise talmid chacham instructed us to desist. My colleagues had brilliant articles ready to go, but this rav said no. “Don’t name him, don’t attack him, don’t delegitimize him, don’t anything him,” he said. “Just ignore him. Don’t make him a story.” So the magazine went ahead and made the ideological argument in a sophisticated and compelling way — without mentioning any names. 

It was good advice, of course. Too bad the New York Times doesn’t have a rabbinical board. Things might have been different for them. 

Another takeaway concerns the relationship between the media and readers. How could pollsters and pundits who initially laughed off Trump have gotten it so wrong? The answer is that so many of them are disconnected from the rank and file they aim to represent. So many of the analysts and experts live in New York City or Los Angeles, completely cut off from the land where voters really live. 

Rav Moshe Bik would encourage young people in shidduchim to meet several times, to go on seven or eight dates before getting engaged. A prominent rebbe was unhappy with the advice, feeling that the extended dating period would make the whole relationship too casual. 

“The problem,” Rav Bik remarked, “is that the Rebbe is a mesader kiddushin, while I’m a mesader gittin!” 

It’s a message for anyone who wants to make a difference in frum life — be it in chinuch, askanus, media, or otherwise. You can’t influence people from behind a podium or keyboard if you don’t really know what ails those people. To be effective, it’s worthwhile to listen more and speak less. Spend more time on the street and less in an ivory tower. 

The intelligentsia and high-handed media can continue with the game of gleefully catching the Trump mistake of the day, the misstep, faux pas, lie, or misdeed, sure that “this one will bring him down.” They don’t get that the reason people like Donald Trump is not that he’s a paragon of virtue; they like him because they feel like he understands them. His flaws make him more like them, not less, and that’s why he’s winning. 

Finally — but most importantly — the improbability of his astonishing rise points to some sort of Divine plan: there is no question it’s of cosmic significance. As Jews, we’re trained to watch these things and hope they’re leading to happier times. 

A very respected maggid shiur called me after the article appeared and mentioned that he’d spoken with his talmidim about Trump. “I told them that this is so out of the ordinary, that the Ribbono shel Olam clearly wants something, that we’d better pay attention. He’s moving his chess pieces around on the board and ultimately, it’s for us.” 

I remarked that although the progression from joke to presumptive nominee was indeed spectacular, Trump wasn’t likely to win the general election (a prediction no longer so certain.) 

This talmid chacham paused for a moment, “Then you clearly missed what I just said. I said that you know nothing, that something bigger is going on here — so how do you answer with more polls? It’s time to stop thinking punditry and start thinking about the real world.” 

I’ve never enrolled in his university, but Donald Trump and his candidacy have given us plenty to think about.