Politics & Parsha: “Shul Politics Like Never Before”
Each week, Former 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.
Enjoy this week’s special double edition!
V’zos Ha’beracha 5772: Here We Go Again
Each year, the final Torah portion of V’zos ha’beracha – filled with Moses’ final blessings to the Jewish people, his ultimate charge to them for the future, his death on Mount Navo and Joshua’s ascension to leadership is almost completely overtaken by events of the day. It is read on Simchas Torah amid great celebration – usually including singing and dancing after which, immediately, we launch the Torah reading cycle again with Genesis.
Jewish tradition teaches that we do this in order to show how precious the Torah – and Torah study – is to us.
But there is another lesson. Celebration of a job well done is well deserved, but too much resting on past achievements is a recipe for disaster.
America at times – sometimes for the better part of a decade at a time was focused on major projects: some vital – defeating Nazi Germany and the Axis; some useful – building the interstate highway system; some inspiring – the space race and the moon shot. These provided a unifying, national purpose, goals to focus on and a reason to put aside petty differences and the will to overcome obstacles.
The entire creative, political, educational and industrial might of the nation was deployed to win those decades. (See, for example, Band of Brothers author Stephen Ambrose’s fantastic tome “D-Day: Battle for the Normandy Beaches.”) Other decades, without such “big eyed” goals, were less successful for the nation.
It is no less true for nations, communities, institutions and individuals. They all thrive when facing a challenge. And the lesson of a too quick focus and a too short celebration of the Torah’s final reading reminds us it’s good to enjoy a well earned win, but it’s all critical to begin focusing on the next challenge.
Bereishis 5772: Excusably Responsible
“I recommend that the Statue of Liberty be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility.” — Victor Frankl
Ambassador Dennis Ross, the old Mideast hand in presidential administrations seemingly beyond memory once related to a 2009 OU Mission to Washington, “A lot of diplomacy is geared towards denying excuses.”
It seems Mr. Ross was channeling the Almighty in the very first chapters of the Torah. We see it first with the angels, then with Adam, Eve and the snake, and again with Cain.
The Lord says to the angels, “Let us make man,” and tradition teaches it was a divine lesson in humility. But it was also a divine lesson in giving the Host a chance to object or forever hold their piece.
When G-d challenges Adam and Eve, he does so by asking questions: Ayeka? Where are you? Who told you that you aren’t wearing clothes? Did you eat from the tree I told you not to?
In each case, the answer to the question moves Adam and Eve closer to accepting responsibility for their actions.
Similarly, with Cain, G-d probes and queries and forces an admission of guilt. (Of course Cain demands G-d take responsibility as well – responsibility for his own safety – a challenge G-d fulfills through the mark of Cain.)
This is the opening lesson of Genesis – privilege brings with it responsibility.
Public servants – those elected, appointed or civil servants – have the privilege to serve. That brings a level of responsibility as well.
So too, for each of us in our private lives and our communal institutions – the privileges of family and of friendship, the privilege of being a center of community life – entail responsibility.
And part of that is making sure we aren’t making any excuses.
Words to consider, ideas to ponder — politics & the parsha.