Politics & Parsha: Vayikra 5771

Posted on March 11, 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.

Vayikra 5771: Inkspotters

“We have, I fear, confused power with greatness.” — Stewart L. Udall, former US Secretary of the Interior

Jewish tradition teaches that when Moses (or depending on your view on the last 12 verses, Joshua) finished writing the very first Torah scroll, there was some ink left over. And tradition asks a question: couldn’t Almighty, all-knowing G-d order the right amount of ink? Tradition answers that the Lord is indeed a very good quartermaster and He had stockpiled just enough. But Moses, in this week’s Torah portion, tried to get away with writing “Vayikar,” and G-d “happened” upon Moses, as if by chance or coincidence. Nope, G-d insisted, it’s got to say Vayikra, and G-d called to Moses, called upon him, specifically and purposely. Eventually Almighty & infinite G-d brokers a compromise with mortal, finite Moses: he could write the required alef extra small. Thus, extra ink.

I believe the first time I heard the term “love me wall” it was in a Tom Clancy novel. It is the wall of pictures in someone’s home or office that shows them doing something important, or “cool” – or ideally both (especially if you’re a member of USAF pararescue, the NYPD divers or a Coast Guard rescue swimmer). If you’re in uniform, it’s the wall your commendations and medals go. If you’re in politics, it’s the pictures (ideally signed) of you with VIPs who are ideally addressed only by titles: Mr. President, Madam Speaker, Mr. Secretary, Senator, General, Admiral etc.

Most everyone in politics has some kind of love me wall. But some people really show it off. They’ll take you through it every time they see you. When you’re somewhere else, they’ll describe it to you. They’ll tell you how well the know so-and-so elected official. They will rush to get a picture with every elected official or candidate they see and in today’s social media age, they will tweet it, flickr it, and post it to Facebook before the flash has finished.

Then there are the people who don’t really have much a wall and they don’t show it off. They won’t tell you who they know or for how long. We have a special name for people like that: powerful.

In the words of the Iron Lady, Baroness Thatcher, “Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.” Moses didn’t need to broadcast to the world that G-d called him. Everyone knew that if you wanted to get G-d, and you weren’t comfortable or confident doing it alone (which is after all one of Maimonides thirteen principles of faith – no intermediary needed) your best bet was to go through Moses. Moses could have written “and it happened” and nobody would have believed him. And if there were folks running around the Israelite camp saying they had a prophecy from the Lord or that angels had engaged them in conversation, they were probably treated the same way we treat the people (usually on the NYC subway) making similar claims today.

In our own lives – personal & communal – we need to ensure that we never confuse power for popularity or access with success. We would all do well to have smaller love me walls and put more work into solving problems. And we would equally do well to ensure that those we give power to – elected officials, their staffs, community leaders and even within our individual worlds – our families and our friends – are the people who aren’t in it for the pictures on the wall or the stories around a pub table.

It’s never a bad thing to try and be more like Moses, but in this regard especially, we could take a page from the playbook of the most powerful human being ever to live and leave some ink over in the story of our lives.

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