Politics & Parsha: Tazria 5771

Posted on March 31, 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.

Tazria 5771: Say What! Say When

At first glance, the Torah portion of Tazria is wholly technical, regarding ritual impurities relating to childbirth, diagnosing and curing a spiritual malaise wrongly translated as “leprosy” and the like which have little to do both with our modern life (we are all considered ritually impure, at least until the Temple is rebuilt and tzara’as, “leprosy” doesn’t exist in our time).

But looking at it again, one underlying, connected theme emerges. Time and distance play a role in the days of our lives. At one time, something we say or do can cause us to be distant from others and we may need a time-out from personal or communal relationships and commitments. As well, there are times we need to be distant from others and times to be close. There are things we should never say or things that need to be said in certain ways, or only at certain times. Finally, we don’t always know when those times come or what those words may be. An outsider – in the Bible a kohen – but in our days, someone playing that role – must examine the situation and diagnose both cause and cure.

In politics especially, but also in our own personal lives, these themes emerge again and again. There are times even political opponents join together (I am reminded that this week marked the 30th anniversary of the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan. As he was about to go into surgery, ever ready with a quip, Mr. Reagan said to the surgical team he hoped they were all Republicans. Responding as the gravity of the situation demanded, his surgeon replied, “Mr. President, today we are all Republicans.”) and there are even times that allies and friends part ways. Rarely is either permanent.

And like the metzora (“leper”) in our Torah reading, they often require a consigliore to advise them when to step back or when to re-engage.

This happens to formerly elected officials as well. Other than to extol and model the benefits of octogenarian skydiving George HW Bush (Bush 41) has famously avoided almost any public comments on any issues after his defeat by President Clinton. Gerald R. Ford, the “accidental” president, gave candidly harsh assessments of much that was going on in public life around him, on one condition. They only be published posthumously, and thus was entitled “Write it When I’m Gone.”

Even his predecessor, Richard Nixon, who resigned office in disgrace eventually had something of a comeback as a statesman and adviser to world leaders.

In Ford’s case, he recognized the need for distance and time – and that comments made by an ex-president could cause more harm than good in a real time political environment, especially during crises. Nixon realized – and others realized about him – that whatever his sins, missteps, mistakes and flaws, he had spent decades deeply involved in political one-upmanship, policy debates and diplomatic gamesmanship. He had what to offer and he was ready to offer it.

Sadly, other elected officials and world leaders, when they leave office, can’t seem to leave the stage and are forever grabbing the microphone away from others. In fact, as reported by Politico’s J-Mart & Ben Smith, the “Justin Bieberization” of political and policy memoirs has begun – with those elected still days after their win and before taking office for even a day, have landed book deals. Some losing candidates have even done the same.

The lesson of Tazria is that there are times we need to step back, where our engagement is inappropriate. And at times, we need to tell others – or be told by them – whether it is a time safe to engage or one more apt for pullback. It’s a lesson we all need to learn.

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