In this week’s Torah portion B’ha-a-lo-techa (Numbers 8:1-12:16) we read this description of Moses – “a very humble man, more so than any other person on earth.” (12:3) The Hebrew for ‘humble’ is anav and appears only one time in the five books of Moses – here. Given Moses’ extraordinary career as a prince, shepherd, prophet, liberator, chieftain, military leader, and judge – arguably the greatest Jew in history – it’s legitimate to wonder what “humility” meant as it applied to Moses.
I answer this question in my blog at The Times of Israel. See https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/the-most-humble-person-who-ever-lived/
The Jungian therapist Robert Johnson wrote in a little book called “We”:
“Here we are confronted with a paradox that baffles us, yet we should not be surprised to discover that romantic love is connected with spiritual aspiration – even with our religious instinct – for we already know that courtly love, at its very beginning so many centuries ago, was understood as spiritual love, a way of loving that spiritualized the knight with his lady, and raised them above the ordinary and the gross to an experience of another world, an experience of soul and spirit.”
I discuss the medieval myth of Tristan and Iseult the Fair in the context of this week’s Torah portion Bamidbar, the Biblical prophet Hosea, and the Festival of Shavuot that begins this Saturday night as similar expressions of spiritual love.
To read my d’var Torah, you can find it on my blog at the Times of Israel at https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/tristan-and-iseult-courtly-love-and-covenant/
I am a fan of Preet Bharara, an American lawyer who served as the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York from 2009 to 2017. Preet has a podcast called “Stay Tuned with Preet” in which he comments on legal and prosecutorial matters and interviews experts on the law and diplomacy.
This week, Preet responded to a question from a listener who asked whether he thought it is the duty of our Congressional Representatives to uphold the law or to demur because of the feared negative political consequences that might result.
In his response, Preet framed the issue of impeachment of the President well. I transcribed that response here. He said:
“You’re a House Dem and you aren’t sure impeachment is electorally smart, but you are sure that it is constitutionally warranted based on the facts. What’s the right thing to do? Isn’t duty greater than speculation?
…if you have the view that there’s overwhelming evidence someone committed some transgression, and you have the power to hold that person accountable, then yes, you do have the duty.
I recognize Democrats’ hesitation – of Nancy Pelosi and others…what are you supposed to do? I understand that as a political prediction-matter if you think that the most important thing for America in the world in the next couple of years is for Donald Trump to be defeated in 2020, and you also think your reading of semi-ancient history of 20 years ago [i.e. the impeachment of Bill Clinton and his political comeback after the fact] that your reading of impeachment will undermine the ability to defeat Donald Trump in 2020, why you might have some hesitation. While in good faith you are still working toward this important election you don’t want anything to get in the way of that. I understand that. But the problem is that dubious calculations are being made by members of Congress. Knee-jerk timidity based on 1998 jitters is not leadership.
So, on the one hand, if you have this concern about the election and the effect that impeachment proceedings will have on that election, but on the other hand you have certitude – moral, ethical, and factual certitude – that the President committed acts that justify impeachment, how do you choose?
To me, the first thing is speculative, and people have been very bad about speculating what is going to happen in the future. And so, in a world in which one decision is merely speculative and the other you feel in your heart and mind is certain, then you go with the certain – you go with the definite, and you hope that that changes hearts and minds, and people understand that you are doing things in good faith and you are proceeding in a way that is about the truth and about accountability and values as opposed to scoring political points; and people can see you are doing things in that way – then you have to proceed.
I’m not saying that tomorrow articles of impeachment need to be filed. What I am saying is that as a member of Congress you feel deeply that impeachable offenses have been committed, then you can’t shy away from moving towards that, whether it’s by having hearings along the way to get more evidence and to put more of the picture of what happened before the American people where you get to a point where you pursue formally that thing called impeachment, then you need to proceed.
However, if you don’t think that impeachable offenses have been committed, then it’s an easy decision for you – and you don’t proceed…every Congressperson needs to decide for themselves what they think happened here and not to unduly shy away because of some speculation about how it will be perceived in some future election.”
I hold no hope for Trump’s Palestinian-Israeli peace proposal even before he reveals it because neither he nor his son-in-law Jared Kushner understands the dynamics within Israeli and Palestinian societies or between the two peoples. They think they can solve this intractable problem by infusing money into the Palestinian community. The Middle East doesn’t work that way. The history of failed peace attempts is proof.
Micah Goodman, an Israeli philosopher, author, and a senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, has written an important book called “Catch-67 – The Left, The Right, and the Legacy of the Six-Day War” (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018). He describes well the conundrum facing Israelis and Palestinians within their own societies and in light of their histories, ideologies, demographic claims, religious and political orientations within each society, and in their relationship with each other.
For his conclusions and more detail, please go to my blog at The Times of Israel at https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/catch-67-why-trumps-deal-of-the-century-is-folly/
On Thursday, May 22, 1969, I was arrested in a peaceful mass bust of 482 University of California Berkeley students and faculty for protesting the police killing of one man and the injury of hundreds more with buck shot and bird shot during the “People’s Park” controversy. I was sent to and spent a 24-hour period at Santa Rita prison. What I experienced there terrified me and transformed me into the political and social justice activist that I would become.
See my blog at the Times of Israel to learn what happened that day in the prison at https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/i-was-a-prisoner-at-santa-rita-50-years-ago/
In this era of Trump, millions of Americans are stepping up to fight Trump’s distortions of fact, moral turpitude, corruption, and violation of law even as Senate Republicans neatly fold up their tents in ways similar to how Austria and Czechoslovakia, France and Belgium folded theirs eighty years ago. While our era and nation are in so many ways different than the 1930s and Germany, the moral collapse of societal norms in those years is similar to the moral collapse that we are witnessing today at the highest levels of the American government. One cannot help but read the past into the present when considering the era Eric Vuillard describes in his eloquent history-novella called The Order of the Day.
For the complete blog at the Times of Israel in which I compare Hitler’s march to war and the moral turpitude of the Trump era, see https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/the-order-of-the-day-and-the-era-of-trump/
Last evening I participated on a panel at the American Jewish University with moderator Rabbi Elliot Dorff and with fellow panelists Rabbi Sharon Brous and Rabb Elazar Muskin in a conversation between rabbis of different religious streams (Reform, Conservative/non-denominational, and Orthodox) that, if not checked, can tear apart the fabric of the American Jewish community.
The three of us panelists represent similar and dissimilar approaches to what we believe is appropriate for rabbis to discuss on the bima and within the synagogue setting. We didn’t always agree – in truth, at times we disagreed substantially.
For my full statement and a link to the discussion, go to my Times of Israel blog at https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/politics-on-the-pulpit-is-there-a-line-and-where-do-you-draw-it/