Towards the end of our sedra, Moshe broaches a very integral law for keeping justice in the soon-to-be recaptured Eretz Yisrael –– the topic of Egla Arufa. If a dead body is found on a stretch of land outside of the boundaries of an Israeli city, and no one can figure out who committed the crime, then the judges of the main Bet Din in Jerusalem intercede. They measure the distance to the closest city, and hold the elders there responsible to atone for the death. These zekenim must bring an eglah, a young female cow, to a certain field and slaughter her there. They then wash their hands (perhaps to figuratively “wash their hands” of the sin), and recite the following confession:
יָדֵינוּ לֹא שפכו אֶת הַדָּם הַזֶּה וְעֵינֵינוּ לֹא רָאוּ
Our hands have not spilled this blood, and our eyes have not seen (דברים כא:ז)
The Kohanim witnessing this ceremony call out to Hashem:
כַּפֵּר לְעַמְּךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲשֶׁר פָּדִיתָ ה’ וְאַל תִּתֵּן דָּם נָקִי בְּקֶרֶב עַמְּךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל וְנִכַּפֵּר לָהֶם הַדָּם. וְאַתָּה תְּבַעֵר הַדָּם הַנָּקִי מִקִּרְבֶּךָ כִּי תַעֲשֶׂה הַיָּשָׁר בְּעֵינֵי ה’
Atone for Your nation Israel whom You redeemed, Hashem, and do not spill innocent blood among Israel so that they will have to atone for it. Please burn away the clean blood around you, for you have done the correct thing in the eyes of Hashem. (שם ח-ט)
A moving procession for sure — the young cow is brought in the fields of the valley of Eitan as an atonement for the body found in the fields around the city. But why are the elders of the city the ones who perform this ceremony? Short of a plot twist in a thriller movie of Law & Order, surely none of them committed the crime?
A well-known answer is brought that the elders’ atonement of the Egla Arufa is simply a symbolic reminder of responsibility. The courts of each city are charged with maintaining justice in and around their limits. If a terrible crime, such as a “hit and run” murder, takes place very close to their municipality and they cannot find the perpetrator, it shows that they have not properly done their jobs, and they must atone for this. In other words, having the city elders perform the Egla Arufa ceremony is a way of showing them that even though “יָדֵינוּ לֹא שפכו אֶת הַדָּם הַזֶּה,” they are still guilty because “עֵינֵינוּ לֹא רָאוּ”- they were not keeping justice well enough to prevent a crime like this from happening.
I believe that this lesson is a very universal one- it goes far beyond the implications of this (hopefully uncommon) case. Leadership is a privilege, one which comes with a huge responsibility. Whether one is in charge of a city, a country, a region, or an influential international body (cough cough…), with this title and authority comes the burden of keeping the peace there, of maintaining order and punishing those who try to undermine justice. Anything short of complete and absolute righteousness (as is written earlier in our sedra, “צדק צדק תרדוף”), characterizes a lack of responsibility, and, at the very least, shows that said leader is not fit to continue in their position. (The wording of the pesukim in Shoftim seem to more than hint that they are more than partially accountable for any wrongdoing that they indirectly cause through their ineptitude).
Why do I say this? Because less than a month ago, the P5+1 international conference reached a comprehensive plan of action with Iran, their economic money-grubbing greed outweighing common sense as they begin to remove sanctions against the terrorist state. Perhaps more appalling than sworn defender of the helpless, the United States, accepting the deal is their president’s insistence that this deal is the best option at this point. Putting aside decades of complicated relations (mostly due to Iranian aggression, violence and terrorism against America and her allies), and ignoring the advice of experts predicting Iranian noncompliance and zero-breakout time at the end of ten years, this deal is in the latter stages of finalization, and the promise of a veto will almost definitely ensure its passing in the US legislature.
In the past few weeks, several reasons have been given by Jewish, Israeli, and even Arab leaders to be afraid of this deal- I won’t go into them now. I would instead like to share a more practical concern, and that is of responsibility. Let’s say that aforementioned worst case scenario does happen, and Iran will come to nuclear warheads within a few months. When they, hypothetically, of course, announce this and say that they will point these at Israel and the very western countries who eased Iranian sanctions, how will the world react?
History has shown that they will react in the very way that the elders of the Egla Arufa are told not to. European countries and the United States have been providing funds and aid supplies to the Palestinian Authority and Gaza for decades, despite the fact that it has continually been proven that these monies are going straight towards terrorist activities. However, when said activities happen, when terrorists enter Israel through tunnels built with Western funds, and innocent Jews are killed, there is rarely a reaction. At best, these countries will claim “יָדֵינוּ לֹא שפכו אֶת הַדָּם הַזֶּה וְעֵינֵינוּ לֹא רָאוּ”- we didn’t execute the attack, how could we know that a conclave run by a terrorist organization would divert funds towards, well, terror?!
Iran, a proud financial backer of ISIS, Hamas and Hizbolah, has just been given the green light to receive more money from America and her allies- do we have any guarantee that they won’t use this cash infusion to fund more terror against Israel? And if, by some strange coincidence, they do, is there any chance that Israel’s so-called allies will take responsibility for their naivete and downright stupidity?
We must learn from the lesson of the Egla Arufa, and hold the Western powers responsible for the terror that they have indirectly caused in Israel, and ensure that they do not allow for any more by funding Iran and allowing the Islamic Republic to obtain nuclear weapons. Now is the time to tell American leaders: “ אַל תִּתֵּן דָּם נָקִי בְּקֶרֶב עַמְּךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל- do not spill innocent blood in Israel!”
With Hashem’s help, all of those who have caused innocent Jewish blood to be spilled, both directly and indirectly, will be held responsible, and we will merit the coming of the Ge’ulah very very soon.