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.
Ki Tisa 5771: Honesty Is Not Always the Best Policy
The officer announces the presiding judge and the clerk reads the case title. The prosecutor rises, says “For the United States,” and states their name. You turn to the defense attorney who rises, also states their name, but then says, “I’m not for the defendant your honor. I’m more of an honest broker.”
“Mistrial,” declares the judge. And you’ve just witnessed the shortest trial in the history of the world.
We expect the judge to be impartial. If they aren’t, it could be grounds for overturning a verdict or even, in extreme cases, impeachment. (at least in the American, common law, system. European law – or civil/Roman law – has judges able to be more closely aligned with the state and asking leading questions etc.) But the lawyer? Who wants an impartial lawyer? Even if a lawyer believes their client is guilty, or better, even if they are sure of it, they have a duty to fight hard for their client and force the prosecution to prove the case.
Imagine if your real estate broker wasn’t actually on your side? Or your stockbroker? Pharmacist? Doctor?
Upon seeing the Jewish people collapse to the nadir of spirituality, backsliding into idol worship and a prehistoric version of an adult spring break, G-d informs Moses, as a courtesy, of their now impending doom. Moses however, fights back. Marshalling logical arguments (What will the Egyptians say?) and emotional ones (Remember the patriarchs!) he tries, to no avail, to win a reprieve. Finally, he says to G-d, either forgive them, or I quit. Actually, he says m’cheini na mi’sifrecha, erase me from your Book, but the message is clear. Moses has no interest in continuing to lead a newer, enhanced version of G-d’s chosen people. It’s Israel, or bust.
Not only for Moses, but for G-d as well.
And G-d relents, forgiving the new nation.
Moses isn’t an honest broker. He’s biased. Compromised.
And that’s what works. It works for G-d, who sees Moses won’t give up or give in. And it works for the Jewish people, who know that Moses has done everything to win their reprieve and are able to follow his lead for forgiveness. They know he’d never betray them or abandon them.
People often talk of the need for honest brokers in the diplomatic world.
For my part, we need less honesty and more bias. No one’s going to sign away their national security to an honest broker. They will trust a friend though.
And so too, in our own lives. Employees need to know their boss is behind them 100%. And employers need to know those they’ve hired are irrevocably loyal. Children need parents who defend them and support them no matter what. And friends need to know that they will have your support, in the words of Mr. Twain, even when they are wrong.
That bias allows people to be vulnerable, to admit wrongs and accept criticism. It allows them to take risks.
Sometimes, honesty really isn’t the best policy.
Words to consider, ideas to ponder – politics & the parsha.