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.
Bereishit 5771: Permission granted?
One of my colleagues in a prior job used to tell his staff, it’s a lot easier to ask forgiveness than ask permission. This was a wise piece of advice to navigating the bureaucratic minefields of Albany.But it’s no way to run a world…
Before G-d creates man, He turns to the angels, and suggests to them, “let us make man.” (Not to be confused with Rod Serling’s much more dangerous “To Serve Man”)
Now G-d doesn’t need the angels help on this, and in fact, as man becomes somewhat of a replacement and competitor to Heaven’s Brigade – the angels, if they can figure out what’s coming, might even be inclined to say no. So why is G-d asking?
Partly perhaps, G-d likes the angels to be with Him even when they don’t quite get it. He’s looking to build a level of trust with them, and an understanding that they know He knows what He’s doing. The flood? G-d’s got it covered. Saving Ishmael? Binding of Isaac? Selling Joseph? Trust Him. He knows what He’s doing.
More than just buy in, the angels are ready to do what G-d asks – even if sometimes they have to ask why or get Him to repeat the order. That’s because the angels trust G-d, and they trust G-d because He takes the time to ask their advice and input, to make them feel validated.
This helps G-d we suppose, but we think the real lesson He is teaching is for us humans. Something is gained G-d reminds us, by asking, by getting buy in, even by simply hearing out the no votes on the other side. That’s even true for angels, who we think are the classic yes men: created only to serve their Lord’s will, without any of humanity’s innate ability for self deception or self interest. But as we see time and again in the Talmud and midrash, even among angels, G-d gets questions, strange sidelong glances and push-back. It’s their trust in Him that gets them past it. Otherwise, G-d would need new help.
Leaving aside Nietzsche’s view that “Woman was G-d’s second mistake,” the traditional Jewish view is that mankind was the ultimate creation. Judaism views G-d and man as partners in building the world (see eg, Lord Sacks, Britain’s chief rabbi, here) – in completing creation almost (see also, Jonathan Rosenblum, eloquent as ever here).
In order for man to partner with G-d in this, G-d’s first lesson, even before man is around to learn it, is to make sure you build up a relationship. That way, when you say no, or when you disagree, it’s not the final conflict, but a bump in the road. Keeping in touch, even amongst enemies is a standard practice. It was one of the ideas behind the US-Soviet hotline, which was created in the aftermath of the Cuban missile crisis.
We admit that the week we read about Cain & Abel might not be the best to talk up friendship. But we think there’s a lesson here, for individuals, for communities, institutions and dare we say, elected officials and candidates. Even if you’re a god, and you can get your way without trying too hard – even if you’ve got a supermajority of the votes, and a monetary or PR advantage – the long term strategy for us all is to look across the negotiating table, the board room, or the aisle, and say our own version of “Let us make man.”
Words to consider, ideas to ponder – politics & the parsha