As a young boy I learned a very important Jewish value: one does not get credit for a mitzvah, if someone else has to pay for it.
There is a Chabad shul in my community that shares a common parking lot with a neighboring church. On Shabbat, the shul blocks off their part of the lot — the mitzvah of encouraging members not to drive on Shabbat. However, the daveners park their cars in the church’s portion of the lot, causing parking nightmares for the church trying to run its Saturday programs.
Mitzvah by Chabad paid for by your neighborhood Lutheran Church!
I thought of this after reading of the 340+ rabbis who have signed the petition calling upon Congress to support the agreement with Iran. This rabbinic pursuit of peace is certainly a mitzvah, however, those rabbis who signed it are not paying for it, nor are they taking any responsibility for what happens if/when the agreement collapses into a heap of shrapnel and destruction.
Writing from the comfort (as well as safety) of a rabbinic office in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago or Florida or in an ivory tower on a college campus, in the heartland of America, removed from the clatter and noise of the real world, too often allows my rabbinic colleagues to forget that none studied foreign policy or nuclear timetables while at HUC-JIR, JTS, RRC or even YU! Unfortunately, all too often, some rabbis seem to feel that the title Rabbi/Teacher is synonymous with Navi/Prophet.
One of my teachers of Navi commented upon the clash between the Prophet, speaking universal truths while issuing absolutes of moral behavior and practice, and the King, who sat on the throne, in charge of life and death decisions affecting the kingdom. The teacher asked: “If the Prophet was the spokesperson of God, then why didn’t the ruler just do what the Prophet said to do?”
His answer? “The Prophet didn’t have to make payroll!”
The Prophet was not in charge of running the country, keeping the populace safe and making sure the garbage got picked up. The Prophet would say whatever he or she would say and then leave, not concerned with what the outcome of those words would be. Statement uttered and delivered.
Rabbis are cautioned to be careful with their words; how much the more so when the price of those beautiful words and sentiments has to be paid by someone else!
What kind of chutzpah does it take to tell Israel and America to quietly accept this agreement because, after all, we rabbis, living in the Diaspora, know better than you; we rabbis, living in the Diaspora, see the picture better than can you; we American Progressive rabbis, living in the Diaspora, understand more than you who live in Israel. And besides, we are rabbis, trust us!
My American Progressive colleagues, in reference to the Iranian Nuclear Agreement: none of us has skin in the game; none of us has our children or grandchildren fitted for gas masks, needs to know where our safe room is, nor to be constantly listening for the siren signaling approaching missiles.
No, for after having signed the petition to accept the agreement with Iran, we can get back to more important things: High Holy Day Sermons, adult education classes and bar/bat mitzvah lessons. Who bears the brunt of the consequences if we are wrong?
Not us, living in the Diaspora!
A beautiful verse is found in the Book of Psalms: “The Lord will give strength to his people; the Lord will bless his people with peace (Ps. 29:11).” Notice the way this verse is formulated: strength is mentioned first and only then is peace; for without strength, desires for peace are futile and will be drenched in the blood of the weak.
Hopes, desires, wishes and dreams of peace provide visions for a better tomorrow, but foreign polices built upon hopes, dreams, wishes and desires, without the strength and courage to back them up, lead only to disaster.
I hope that my rabbinic colleagues, in their desire to perform the mitzvah of loving and pursuing peace by signing that petition, are equally prepared to pay the price for their signatures — it surely won’t be fulfilled by their parking in someone else’s spot!