Khokat - Weekly Torah Portion

Making promising is pretty easy, making good on one’s promises is an entirely different business. We learn about one such promise made by Jephthah on the eve of war that we read about in the Haftarah of this week from the book of Judges. “Jephthah made a vow to the Lord and said, “If You will indeed give the sons of Ammon into my hand, then it shall be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the sons of Ammon, it shall be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.” Like is a good tragedy we know how this story shall end, but we shall not read about that this week. The price of the not fully thought about vow is high, “When Jephthah came to his house at Mizpah, behold, his daughter was coming out to meet him with tambourines and with dancing. Now she was his one and only child; besides her he had no son or daughter.” A happy occasion rapidly deteriorates into great sadness. The miracle that occurred to Isaac is not repeated in this case, as her father “did to her according to the vow which he had made”.

While in the reading of the Haftarah the issue of death is only hinted about, it is entirely different in this week’s reading from the portion of “Khokat”. Firstly, Miriam, the one who danced to the sound of tambourines after the crossing of the sea, dies in Kadesh and is buried there. Aaron, the brother of Moses and Miriam also dies, being aware of his last hours on earth. He, Moses and his son Eleazar walk up of Mount Hor, “Moses had stripped Aaron of his garments and put them on his son Eleazar, Aaron died there on the mountain top. Then Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain.” Three of them went up the mountain and only two came back. Only one of the three leaders of the nation remained alive, and Moses time on earth was nearing its end too. There is a little more time for him to linger the desert before he too will reach his final resting place without entry to the Promised Land.

These are stories about four leaders, Jephthah, Miriam, Aaron and Moses. Each of them has his or her own story and a message that is sent to us through them. I identify here two important insights that are of significance to leaders. The first is to think deeply and thoroughly about what it is that a leader promises as once it is made it is likely that the leader will face a demand to do well on a promise. To promise is easy, it is popular and brings support, it sounds good to the crowds, but also requires the leader to face the consequence of implementation. Sometime the consequence comes at a high price. It is therefore that the responsible leader will always carefully consider what promises to make as they should assume that they will be held accountable of such promises. It is true that these days we tend we tend not to consider promises made by leaders as promises we can expect execution upon, however, this comes with a dear price, one that we have experienced in the far and near past.

Miriam and Aaron’s story are slightly different but it too is designated to deliver a message. The days of leaders, regardless of how important they may be, as good as they may be, are numbered. Regardless of their greatness their lives will end well before the accomplishment of their life mission. It is therefore that they carry a tremendous responsibility for a next generation of leaders that can navigate the nation in good times, and even more so when challenges begin to mount up. The death of leaders, regardless of the greatness of the loss experienced cannot stop a nation’s passage into the future. It may be difficult for a while but then someone will rise up and take the next step, bolder, more impressive, courageous that will lay another historical layer in the life of a nation. It will probably be quite different from any past historical events but it may nevertheless be at least as successful, possibly even more so.

These days it seems that the coronavirus is starting to spread against amongst us here in Israel, and its government is trying to find ways to resolve the challenges it brings with it. It is disappointing that in such difficult times, when so many are unemployed, that the finance committee of the Knesset deals with tax exemptions to those of leadership positions, those from which we expect, and rightly demand, exemplary conduct of affairs. It would be wiser and better if those who accept their paycheck from the public coffer without interruption, be more attentive to the needs of those who have lost their sources of income. The government and the Knesset must understand that it is they who are responsible for national solidarity in these times. Israel’s moral strength will be checked exactly by being able to fully grasp the devastation experienced by so many who do not know if they are going to have a job in the post-corona days. The moral DNA of our nation, passed by its prophets, are a corner stone of Israel’s Declaration of Independence and it demands that before benefitting the leaders to care for those in need in our society. Not just by articulating the words in speeches on television but by not bowing to pressure groups, and by showing an unbreakable moral spine, which we know so well is the one thing that can ensure long term survivability. We have learned at least that from history.

Shabbat Shalom and wishes for good health to all.

Reuven Marko, 26 June 2020, 5 Tamuz, 5780

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