Rabbi Arik W. Ascherman:

 

 

Balaq: Human Rights and adhering to a democratic process

By Rabbi Arik W. Ascherman on July 10, 2008 - ז' תמוז תשס"ח

This week's Torah portion is Balak, full of dramatic stories as Balak calls upon Balaam to curse the Israelites. Only able to do what God tells him to say, Balaam blesses instead of curses. However, the Israelites manage to curse themselves by allowing the Moabite/Midianite women to entice them into engaging in idolatry. At God's command, Moses calls on the people to kill all those who have worshiped Baal. As Moses and the children of Israel weep apparently powerlessly, Aaron's grandson Pinkhas takes a spear and, as God commanded, kills an Israelite man and a Midianite woman "in the act."

As I mentioned last year, we liberals label Pinkhas as a vigilante, but he is actually doing exactly what God and Moses commanded. At the same time, we all know the dangers of a society in which people take the law into their own hands. We live in one.

When we started our Olive Tree Campaign back in 2002, Palestinians and those of us trying to protect them were being shot at, beaten, stoned, etc., while the Israeli security forces didn't show up, came late, or stood by. When we met with the commander and senior officers in the Ariel police station, I told them that their inaction was endangering Israelis as well as Palestinians. When the message to Palestinians was that there were no acceptable channels to deal with this kind of violence, what did the officers think would happen next? Some of you may also recall the stickers we handed out for several years "HaTokhnit HaKalkalit=P'tzatzah Khevratit." (Israel's Economic Policy is a Social Time Bomb."

Moses still has some moments of greatness to come, but we see him faltering here after almost 40 years of leadership. He too wrings his hands as evildoers flauntingly violate God's will. I still recall the former commander of the Shomron Brigade in the Nablus Region quoted in the newspaper shortly after moving to another position, saying that the thing he most regretted was not being more firm with those settlers who were behaving violently and out of control. He didn't do it while in a position to do so. When those with authority do not even uphold the laws and principles which they themselves proclaim, they both allow the lawless to run wild and they invite vigilantes to step into the vacuum. The danger is that the vigilantism is often worse than the actions/lack of action the vigilantes are opposing.

Today, the private companies running the Israeli Wisconsin plan lord it over those forced into their clutches, and there is no government oversight. A government appointed committee can set a deadline for the government to find a solution for the Holocaust survivors hungry for bread, and the govetment ignores it. The Knesset can pass all of the social legislation it wishes, but the Finance Ministry guts it via the Ecconomic Arrangements Law. At Elad's bidding the Israeli Antiquities Authority countenances archaeological digs in Silwan causing homes to crack and roads to collapse, shipping out skeletons against all regulations, etc., and nobody says a word. The police jail Palestinians who complain about Elad violence and break into the homes of those who dare to appeal to the High Court. There is a resounding silence from those in authority. Today I photographed more Palestinian land being fenced in by settlers in the South Hebron Hills. We spoke with others asking our help to return to their lands after all their complaints to the police about being forced off their land had been ignored. Will any government body take action? Hard to believe as we drove by location after location where settler crops or buildings were on land in which their had been explicit rulings in the favor of Palestinians.

. It is true that in some cases, there are issues where what is just and right is a matter of opinion. Here there must be a democratic process to determine how to act, as frustrating as it is when the right way seems so clear to us.

Where there are those who flaunt their disregard for what those in authority clearly state are the norms and those in authority either wring their hands or stay silent altogether, our society is in great danger.

As to those situations in which we must adhere to a democratic process because there are no clearly obvious norms, let us pray and work so that our society will internalize the final words of this week's Haftarah:

God has told you, humanity, what is good,

And what Adonai requires of you:

Only to do justice

And to love goodness

And to walk humbly with your God;

(Micah 6:8)


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