Politics & Parsha: Masei 5771

Posted on July 28, 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.

Masei 5771: Time Out for Vengeance

King Solomon assures us there is a time for everything. That includes a time to hate and a time for war.  In this week’s Torah portion, as Israel prepares to enter the land and, equally important, as the two and a half tribes take possession of the Transjordan, G-d instructs Moses to set aside three of the six “cities of refuge.”

From a modern legal perspective, they are unfathomable. A killer who was not a murderer – perhaps what in American common law we term “manslaughter” – was to flee a refuge. If on the way he met up with a relative of the deceased who read “an eye for an eye” too literally and exacted revenge, the biblical Jack Ruby was guiltless. If the original killer made it inside the city gate’s, they were safe from any retribution provided they stayed in the city until the death of the reigning high priest. At that point they were freed and any vengeance taken on them was cold blooded murder, with all its consequences.

The Bible then has a lesson for us. Vengeance is natural. Vengeance is normal. Vengeance is condoned. Up to a point. And then, at some point (a truly random point; the high priest could die in a day, a decade or a century, but that’s for a different time, or a different author) vengeance is outlawed. It becomes evil. Unhealthy. Abnormal.

In the lives of nations (and religions), there are grievances, wars, disagreements and differences. That is expected. Sometimes they are settled peaceably, by negotiation, treaty or contract. Sometimes it takes a war or the threat of it and then a treaty. At a certain point, to hold onto those grievances becomes unhealthy and abnormal. While we can’t always forgive – or forget – there comes a time to move on.

This is as true in internal disputes (think those who still want to refight Bush v Gore or dig up yet another copy of President Obama’s birth certificate) as it is in foreign affairs. An inability to let go of grievances and even perhaps legitimate feelings of powerlessness stemming from World War One led Germany into Hitler’s grasp and from there into Austria, the Sudetanland and eventually, the destruction of Europe and the fires and crematoria for Europe’s Jews.

The Bible validates us – and tells us there are times to act on feelings of revenge. But not forever.

This is as true in our own personal lives as it is in our national ones.  It matters for our communal affairs as much as international affairs.

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