Politics & Parsha: Tzav/Zachor/Purim 5771

Posted on March 18, 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.

Tzav/Zachor/Purim 5771: Heroism

“We do this all the time. Well, I shouldn’t say do this all the time as being captured and being a POW. If we do that all the time, that’s, that’s bad. That’s really bad. But we operate in areas of the world where all over the place, some places we’re not wanted, some places we’re not liked. Other places people want us. It’s, it’s hard to, hard to explain, but this is our job. We’ve been doing this for centuries, the United States Army has. And some people get, I, I don’t quite know how to exactly explain it, but I’m not a hero, ma’am. This, this is not my definition of a hero at all.” — Sergeant James Riley, US Army, 507th Maintenance Company, a POW in the Iraq War (Good Morning America, 5/6/03)

Leviticus (Latin for: And He called), gives pretty detailed information on the how & the what of sacrifices.

The minutiae and focus begs a question: how can G-d – or anyone – command sacrifice? Isn’t by definition, a sacrifice something freely given? Given that the Hebrew word – korban – doesn’t specifically translate as sacrifice, but as “coming close,” it still would seem to require a voluntary decision by they who “come close.”

Seemingly, G-d thinks otherwise. Otherwise He wouldn’t have commanded sacrifice. You can’t command something if it can’t be performed at will – or at least under some pressure, duress or inspiration.

That answers as well, another question. What is the Jewish definition of a hero? I once read something by someone I respect very much that puzzled me greatly. They wrote that Captain C.B. Sullenberger (“Sully”) of USAirways Flight 1549 from NYC to Charlotte, with an unplanned detour into the Hudson River wasn’t really a hero because he was just doing his job.

By that definition, soldiers and firemen aren’t heroes either. But if you choose a job that requires – or at least, potentially requires – daily acts of heroism, you’re a hero if you perform them. And if you are ordered to do something that ends with you being heroic, you’re no less a hero because it was ordered.

In other words, yes, sacrifice can be commanded and it makes it no less worthy or proper. As Mark Twain wrote, “courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.”

Esther, in the story of Purim, which we read Saturday night & Sunday (Sunday night & Monday in Jerusalem & other walled cities) is essentially ordered by Mordechai to risk her life. He tells her – perhaps for this reason you’ve reached your position of prominence? And then, ominously, he warns her, if she fails to risk her life to reach the King and lobby him on behalf of the Jewish people, “you & your father’s household will be destroyed.” Esther then risks her life – of course, she tries to mitigate the risk, like many heroes throughout history – but she does as she’s commanded. But history & tradition have the final say – the Purim Story is the Story of Esther.

In our lives, we get dealt a hand: and what we get to do, as individuals, families, communities and nations, is to react. If we react heroically to events, we are heroes. If we sacrifice, even if its forced upon us, its still a sacrifice. We still come closer to those we sacrifice for.

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