I admit that this presidential campaign has left me pleasantly surprised. I'm more of a passive spectator, loosely following the news but not hanging on every word uttered by the candidates, however it seems to me that this campaign is largely devoid of the negativity I recall from others in the past. Commendably, even when tempted by the opportunity to sling mud, both candidates have taken the high road and refused to get dirty.

I daresay that this bodes well for our country, no matter the candidate who prevails in the election. And hopefully, this will start a trend for future elections, campaigns characterized by the exchange of ideas rather than insults. Championing rather than ripping causes.

Negative campaigning always reminds me of the following anecdote related by Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn of Lubavitch:

Rabbi Shalom DovBer, the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, had an older brother, himself an illustrious and saintly scholar, by the name of Rabbi Zalman Aharon. As a young child, Zalman Aharon was bothered by the fact that he was noticeably shorter than his younger brother.

One day, Zalman Aharon sneaked up behind his brother and gently pushed him into a small ditch. As Shalom DovBer stood up in surprise, Zalman Aharon gleefully pointed out that now he was taller...

The boys' father, Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch, observed the entire incident. The Rebbe asked for a chair and asked Zalman Aharon to stand on it. "Tell me," he asked, "who's taller now?"

Zalman Aharon excitedly answered that once again he was taller.

"Aha!" said Rabbi Shmuel. "To be bigger than your friend, there is no need to pull him down. Simply elevate yourself!"

This week, on the 18th of Elul, we mark the birthdays of two pioneers who devoted their lives to campaigning against negative campaigning. I'm talking about Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760), father of the chassidic movement, and Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812), who founded the Chabad stream of chassidism.

They lived in Eastern Europe during a time when negative campaigning in the context of government – i.e. speaking against the Czar – wasn't an issue, considering that most people preferred their heads to remain attached to their necks. What bothered them was negative campaigning in the sphere of religion. Specifically in the contest between spirituality and physicality, holiness vs. the mundane, the body vs. the soul.

Before these two chassidic masters entered the picture, it was in vogue to win the battle against materialistic tendencies by deriding the world of the corporeal. It is so shallow... It is what we have in common with animals... Its pleasures are but fleeting...

Chassidic teachings came along and challenged us to put the spiritual on a pedestal rather than wrestle with the material in its ditch. Instead of focusing on the lowliness of the mundane, concentrate on the sublimity of the spirit. As one of the chassidic mentors of a previous generation once said, "if the pleasure seeking people of the world were introduced to the delights offered by prayer and the communion with the divine that it affords, they would abandon all other pleasures and pray all day!"

Crack open a chassidic text and study about G‑d, His awe-inspiring splendor and His magnificent deeds. And G‑d craves a relationship with you and me, as individuals. We can unite with Him through studying Torah, praying, and observing His mitzvot. Vote for the spirit not because the alternative is depressing, but because the spirit is the absolute best place for you to cast your ballot.

And ultimately, chassidism teaches us, the whole materialism-bashing movement is downright misdirected. Materialism is only negative when misused. To quote the Rebbe:

The chassidic school of thought teaches the predominance of form over matter and the unique quality of the material when it is purified . . . the two are to be so thoroughly fused that one cannot detect where either of them begins or ends . . . The One G‑d created them both, and for one purpose—to reveal the light of holiness of His hidden power. Only both of them together will complete the perfection desired by the Creator.