Politics & Parsha: Behalot’cha 5771

Posted on June 7, 2011 In Archives

This week’s Politics & Parsha is based on a drasha given at Beth Israel Congregation in Edmonton, Canada in June 2009.  If you would like to have IPA staff serve as lecturers during the week or scholars in residence for Shabbat, please email ipadc@ou.org.

Politics & Parsha: “Shul Politics Like Never Before”

Each week, IPA Deputy Director of Public Policy 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.

Behalot’cha 5771: Eyewitness

Has anyone here ever left a movie ten minutes before the end?  Or a hockey game that was tied in overtime before you knew who won?

Yisro, father-in-law of Moses, does just that.  Abandoning his homeland to join a reviled former slave nation, risking ridicule and persecution (to say nothing of his creating the first independent judiciary in the history of mankind), now, as the story is about to reach its conclusion, Yisro returns home?

(We’ve skipped to the end and know of the spies and a forty year mini-exile.  But Yisro has no idea.)

The commentaries and Talmud struggle to understand Yisro’s motive.  Some say he gave up; that he just wasn’t ready for the hard work of conquering a land and building a nation. Others say Yisro went back to teach and preach to his countrymen.

If you look at Yisro as failed, it was because he would not act.  He would not take his responsibility of to its conclusion.  If he succeeded then he and Moses disagreed on what was the better course of action, but at the least Yisro did act, and he did try to fulfill that responsibility.  It’s not clear which school of thought had Yisro figured correctly.  But according to both, the message is the same.

Because, whichever it is, whether to his credit, or not, Moses says: Join us in the final march of history.  Be for us as eyes.  Moshe says, bear witness.

It is not enough to witness, watch.  One must act.  In the words of the great Nazi hunter, Simon Wiesenthal, “Survival is a privilege which entails obligations.”  Bearing witness has a price.

For us as well, both in government and out of it.  We witness & we bear a responsibility for what we witness.  We can – and in politics (national, local, communal, shul & family) we do – disagree on the course of action.  But we are all eyewitness to history.  That entails a responsibility to act somehow.  We, like Moses and Yisro, can disagree perhaps on what that action is.  But apathy is a crime.  Or at least, it’s accomplice to one.

The world, whether across the street or across the globe is a scary place, with people in need of saving.  We are witnesses to that which happens outside our door and that which is occurring across the ocean.

Pick one problem.  I won’t say solve it, I won’t say fix it, and I won’t say make it go away.  But try to help.

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