This past week Mt. Sinai started printing what will likely be weekly announcement flyers. Most people agreed that the announcements took way too long especially considering that the majority of regularly scheduled events never changed, and now that there is an eruv people can actually take them home.
Since we are a nice frum shul, they also had the idea to have a devar torah on the flip side. And for some reason, I was asked to provide the inaugural devar torah.1
As difficult as it is to come up with meaningful derashot, I’ve found it particularly challenging to do so in a one-page limit. Since there are many ideas which I tried to cover and many details and sources which needed to be omitted, I may revisit these issues in a future post. In the meantime here is the devar torah as printed.
Religion and Politics2
As Hashem’s “holy nation” the Jewish people are defined both religiously and politically, and these two aspects of nationhood are interrelated in Jewish leadership. For example, a king’s political decisions assume the force of religious law – “rebelling against the kingdom” is a capital offense. On the other hand, wars of territorial expansion may only be authorized by the religious leaders of the Sanhedrin. Because the religious and spiritual responsibilities are interrelated, it is not surprising to find that spiritual errors produce political tragedies.
The sin of the spies provides an example where a crisis of faith can impact the nation. Prominent tribesmen were sent to explore and observe the land (la-tur) and to report on their findings. However as the Sifre comments on verse 15:39 (lo-tatturu acharei eineichem), “the eyes follow the heart” – a person will only perceive that to which he is already inclined. These leaders approached their mission with religious pessimism and subsequently infected the entire nation with their defeatist attitude.
At the other extreme, Parashat Shelach warns against religious recklessness. Despite the admonition of Moshe, a military party attacked the Amalek and Cannanite forces under the assumption they were fulfilling Hashem’s will. The self-righteous arrogance behind this campaign blinded the participants to the basic disadvantages of smaller forces and attacking from a lower ground, and consequently the effort was doomed to fail. Thus, sanctimonious overconfidence and militancy may be just as destructive as spiritual crisis.
These examples describe religious and political failures in spite of explicit divine commandments. Today when Hashem’s plan is not apparent, religious and political decisions are far more complicated and conjectural, but the consequences are no less critical. While it is understandable if not expected for a religious nation to synthesize its spiritual and political responsibilities, perhaps the truest test of faith is the ability to balance idealism with humility.
1. Surprisingly, my remarks during seudah shelishit on Beha’alotcha didn’t scare off too many people.
2. Inspired by the writings of Haham Faur.