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.
Shelach 5771: Reverse Divine Intervention
In this week’s Torah portion, we all know the basic storyline: Twelve spies, leaders all, enter Israel on a reconnaissance mission. Ten return to deliver an evil – and false – report on the land, saying it is inhospitable to inhabitants and unconquerable to boot. Only two, Joshua and Caleb, say the land is good and that the mission is accomplishable. G-d, as punishment, decrees the entire generation will perish in the desert, ensuring their own libelous report and misplaced fears actually come true. Of the entire generation, only the two naysayers – in a positive sense – Caleb, as prince of Judah and Joshua, as successor to Moses, enter Israel.
But right in the middle – between the spies public report and G-d’s verdict, there is a quick, but crucial trial, with G-d acting as prosecutor, judge, jury and potential executioner . Moses leads the defense. The Almighty is intent on destroying the entire people for their lack of faith. Moses responds, and what will the Egyptians think? Surely, they will assume you had not the power to bring them into Canaan as you had promised, so you killed them here, rather than risk exposing Yourself as weak. G-d relents and agrees to punish – over four decades – the adults but to eventually bring their children into the land.
Now, G-d knew the same argument that Moses made? Surely He understood what the reaction of a watching world that had followed the exploits of the Jews in their escape from Egypt, victory at the sea and then over Amalek, would be when they were destroyed in one fell swoop within sight of their promised land?
But the lesson is that sometimes we know something intuitively, instinctively, but we don’t believe it. We need someone else, someone we trust, someone whose opinion we value to make the point out loud. To say what everyone else is thinking but is too afraid to voice. G-d was teaching us that leaders need followers who will speak out – and speak up. To be unafraid to tell the Emperor when they need to grab a robe.
Recent events in the political world certainly remind us that elected officials need to take counsel with those they trust and to hear, sometimes, unfair or unpleasant statements of truth. The lesson from this week’s Torah portion is that a good leader will always ensure they have staff who can speak to them that way. And a good leader will listen. Good staff need to be willing to say the necessary things.
Unvarnished truth telling sometimes seems like its becoming a lost art. The enduring lesson of the spy saga is that it need not and should not.
Whether in government, politics, or in our own homes and communities, sometimes we play the part of the Almighty and sometimes we play Moses. We need to know when to listen – and when to speak. Because sometimes, the obvious just isn’t.
Words to consider, ideas to ponder — politics & the parsha.