Politics & Parsha: Behar 5771

Posted on May 12, 2011 In Archives

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.

Behar 5771: What’s THAT Got to Do With It?

When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years. – Mark Twain

In rabbinic & talmudic circles, it’s fashionable to ask how two connected ideas really aren’t connected at all by plagiarizing the question numerous commentators posed on this week’s Torah portion, where G-d teaches the laws of shemitah, requiring all farmland lie fallow every seventh “Sabbatical” year to Moses at Mt. Sinai. Ask the commentaries: how pray tell is shemitah connected to Sinai? As for the commentaries, you’re on your own; we’ve got a different lesson.

In life, as Mr. Twain notes above, perhaps especially so in politics & statecraft, knowledge (what Jewish tradition calls chochmah) doesn’t equate with wisdom (da’at). Tradition teaches, joining knowledge & wisdom is binah, understanding (aka, the acronym CHaBaD).

Sinai was knowledge. But as C.S. Lewis’ Professor Digory noted, schools don’t teach everything one needs to know.

G-d knew that. He intended mankind internalize the lesson that sometimes the only way we make judgments on what were the right choices is by letting time tell. Thus Sinai is where we learn of shemitah.

Land recharges when it lies fallow; rejuvenates and even grows in ways it never would if “worked.” Same for our minds, bodies & souls; that’s why one of the great rabbis of the last century, Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe, required his students to take a walk by themselves each day.

President Ford, pilloried by his decision to pardon Richard Nixon, in the short term saw it contribute to his electoral defeat. Seen from the rear view mirror decades since, it was prophetic; exactly the right move.

President Obama gets credit – and more credit each day as the details, contingencies and aftermath are more fully known – for a bold raid into Pakistan to capture and kill Osama Bin Laden. Only history will be able to fully judge his actions against the facts we just don’t know. Is al-Qaeda crippled or will they be resurgent & retaliatory? Should we have taken him alive?

Similarly, Mr. Obama’s predecessor; President Bush takes heat for his anti-terror policies. But only history – and its declassified intelligence – will tell us if he was right.

And only time, as healer of wounds, will allow partisans on both sides to see clearer. With “fallow” hearts & minds, Bush v. Gore will excite the same amount of passion as Hayes v. Tilden and Mr. Obama’s middle name will be just a trivia question on par with Harry “S.” Truman.

In our personal, communal & national lives, the lessons of Behar are that we don’t always know, time does heal (almost) all and our bodies, minds and even our body politics all benefit from sabbaticals.

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