Politics & Parsha: Ki Tavo 5771

Posted on September 16, 2011 In Archives

Politics & Parsha: “Shul Politics Like Never Before”

Each week IPA Director of State Affairs Howie Beigelman takes a look at the weekly parsha and discusses it in a way you may never have seen. Any hashkafic, halachic or political opinions are personal and do not reflect the official psak or policy of the OU.

History Lessons

“History repeats itself. That’s one of the things that’s wrong with history.”  – Clarence Darrow

In one of his last commands to the people, Moses instructs them that when they have settled Israel, farmers will bring of their first crops and recite a brief text that encapsulates Jewish history. (Not as brief as this history lesson; shorter than Lenny Solomon’s.)

History puts some people to sleep, but that’s more likely due to bad teaching than bad content. If read properly then history, with its wars, betrayals and more, is an action movie.

But history is more than just a good read or a great film.  It can also be a way to get the story told the way you want it to be.  In the words of Winston Churchill, history will be kind to me, because I intend to write it. And write it he did – in four hefty volumes and over 1,400 pages. Most importantly, though, it is the basis of families, communities and nations.  It tells us who we are, why we are and what we are supposed to be.

Moses, as he prepares to surrender his leadership to Joshua and as the people he has led are about to enter a new, more fluid and more questioning phase, tells them the secret of how they will remain true to their ancestors and true to their covenant.  Moreover, he provides them the secret to ensuring their children remain as true.  Knowing that they are, in George Washington’s phrase, “the stock of Abraham” who spent some time in a land known as Egypt where we became a nation “atzum v’rav;” but even here we were persecuted and enslaved and our children were murdered.  In the end though, G-d brought us to Israel, where we live, till land and raise children.

It is likely no accident that these verses, which incidentally form the centerpiece of the Passover Seder – itself among the greatest parent-child history teaching rituals – appear right after the command to remember Amalek.  Part of history – part of a national life – is to understand there are bad days, bad years, even bad decades.  But good people and great nations overcome them and reach a promised land and rebuild and renew.

In the words of Lord Jonathan Sacks, Britain’s Chief Rabbi, Jews – and any students of Jewish history – can nary be optimists.  But Jews do something else.  They hope.

There’s a religious lesson here surely, as there is a parenting one.  But it’s also a lesson for elected officials: to steer their people through bad decades – as Churchill and FDR did – and to get them through a few bad months – as JFK did.  It’s even a lesson for friends, peers and communities.

Words to consider, ideas to ponder — politics & the parsha.