DACA and the Bible

Together with others, I sat last weekend at dinner with our gracious host – a man I have come to call “the Berkshires Muse.” Conversation with him is often a reflective stream of consciousness – thoughts, often, from a time gone by. He mentors and challenges, without purporting to mentor or challenge. Walking along the long, sometimes meandering road of his introspection, you happen upon an exceptional flower or sunset that you never saw or considered before.

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Along that journey, you are confronted by him, this time, with the most hideous phrase in all the Bible – in the Ten Commandments itself: “[I am] a jealous God, Who visits the sins of the fathers upon children to the third and fourth generations.” He offers no harangue or diatribe. Just a statement: “How can that be?” And because there is nothing more to say on it, he merely shakes his head and moves on. Still, while he chose not to expound, it lingers for you.

And so, you check. The rabbis of old did purport to deal with it – trying, ever so hard, to make the unbearable, bearable. They explain what this commandment really means. They tell us that God punishes the children only if they carry on the sinful legacy of their parents or, if it was in their power to protest, they failed to do so and instead acquiesced to the life-style shown to them. In essence, if they ratified the deeds of their parents and adopted them as their own (paraphrasing, Sanhedrin 27b).

By telling us that it is only those who follow the misdeeds of their parents who are sinners, these rabbis, however revered they might be, arrogantly attempt to enter the mind of God, defiant of the immutable reality that there is room only for one there – and it is He!

And now, DACA (the “Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals” program), bad enough even if not a reminder of the Bible’s unfathomable low point – called to mind by our host just days before, seemingly unconnected from events du jour. The President of the United States who probably has no independent or permanent thought on the subject – but he has his “base” – turns to his Attorney General, presumably a true believer, to tell the people of the United States that “there is nothing compassionate about the failure to enforce immigration laws.”

And so, the President’s whipping boy of last month, becomes the megaphone to keep that base content. Attorney General Sessions morphs into the President’s connection to the Bible’s seemingly unspeakable willingness to visit the sins of the father upon the sons: to punish by exiling children (“Dreamers”) who did nothing “wrong”, except that they were brought to the United States as children: brought by undocumented refugees who pierced our borders for a better life, just like our own ancestors gained safe passage to the “promised land” of America, at a time when America was a kinder and gentler place.

The Bible’s, dare I say, “questionable” ukase from God to Himself to visit our sins upon our children – to punish our children for our own actions – cannot be something we, as mankind, are commanded to accomplish. No. God speaks of Himself, to Himself, as it is He who “visits the sins of the father” on the generations to come (however that phrase is interpreted).

More valuable in every way is the command, incidentally not found in the Bible, of “Tikkun Olam” – man’s obligation to repair the world. It is an implicit recognition by God Himself, that He created a world in perpetual disrepair in order for mankind to become His partner in repairing it. An incredible concept – that we are His partner to repair His world! And interestingly, the expression isn’t “Tikkun Yisrael” or “Tikkun B’nai Yisrael” or “Tikkun Eretz Yisrael.” No! Tikkun Olam! That is, a duty to repair the world for all mankind.

And so, when our Nation sits on the verge of committing an injustice of epidemic proportions in pushing out the swinging doors of America true innocents whose only sin was to go where their parents took them – can we choose to play God? Do we, as a people, have the indecent cruelty to decree that we – mere Man – will visit the sins of the parents, assuming they are indeed sins, on the children? Or do we instead extend compassion, and follow our path as God’s emissary/partner, helping Him to repair the world of the innocent?

And for you, Berkshire Muse – do see what you have wrought?

About the Author
Joel Cohen is a white-collar criminal defense lawyer at Stroock in New York and previously a prosecutor. He speaks and writes on law, ethics and policy (NY Law Journal, The Hill and Law & Crime). He teaches a course on "How Judges Decide" at Fordham Law School and Cardozo Law School. He has published “Truth Be Veiled,” “Blindfolds Off: Judges on How They Decide” and his latest book, "I Swear: The Meaning of an Oath," as well as works of Biblical fiction including “Moses: A Memoir.” The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Stroock firm or its lawyers.