Politics & Parsha: Nitzavim-Vayeilech 5771

Posted on September 22, 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.

Choice Words

President Bush the younger caught a lot of flak from political opponents for calling himself “the Decider.”  People felt it showed hubris.  But based on this week’s Torah portion, he may not have been off, even if (depending on your political leanings) he ended up being wrong.

The Torah states: ha’nistarot l’Hashem Elokeinu v’ha niglot lanu u’l’vaneinu… the hidden is for G-d, but the revealed is for us and our children.

JRR Tolkien perhaps said it best in the character of Gildor Inglorion who, when asked by Frodo Baggins for advice, answered: “Elves seldom give unguarded advice, for advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill. But what would you?  You have not told me all concerning yourself; and how then shall I choose better than you?  But if you demand advice, I will for friendship’s sake give it. I think you should now go at once, without delay; and if Gandalf does not come before you set out, then I also advise this: do not go alone. Take such friends as are trust and willing. Now you should be grateful, for I do not give this counsel gladly.”

In other words, there comes a time for choosing.  And sometimes we choose poorly (although usually not this poorly).  But there are times when the fate of nations – and of worlds – hangs in the balance.  Tony Blair made this argument about the Iraq war.  He said, to the US Congress, “If we are wrong, we will have destroyed a threat that, at its least is responsible for inhuman carnage and suffering.  That is something I am confident history will forgive.”  But he continued, “if our critics are wrong, if we are right as I believe with every fibre of instinct and conviction I have that we are, and we do not act, then we will have hesitated in face of this menace, when we should have given leadership.  That is something history will not forgive.”

As an Englishman, the then prime minister surely knew a bit about this, given the examples of two of his predecessors.  His eloquence notwithstanding, he could have made this argument far more succinctly.  Decisions need to be made.  Momentous ones.  And sometimes you’re Churchill.  But you can just as easily be Chamberlain.

The Torah, with the Jewish people on the verge of establishing itself as a nation in its homeland are warned: sometimes there will be difficult decisions with unclear choices and several paths.  It will be gray; not black and white.  You will worry.  But the Torah is teaching us:  choose something.  Only G-d knows all the secrets and only He knows the consequences of each choice.

That is a lesson for all elected officials, candidates and policymakers.  It’s also a lesson for their critics, who have the luxury of Monday Morning quarterbacking and armchair generaling that leaders tasked with serving do not.

No one knows what happens to the course we choose.  Except G-d.  But inaction can be as much a sin or a failing or error as action.

Therefore, it is also a lesson for all of us – especially as we always read Nitzavim near Rosh HaShannah.  We must make choices about how we live and who we are.  We must respect as well the legitimate choices of others, even if we wouldn’t make them ourselves.

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