September/October 2000

The Absolute Right: Jerusalem

by Rabbi Yossi Sarid
Arutz Sheva Israel National Radio -http://www.arutzsheva.org-
Broadcast on Aug. 31, 2000 / Rosh Chodesh Elul 5760

In This Article:

1. Why All the Confusion?
2. A Question of Leadership
3. Follow the Leader
4. The Absolute Right


This has been a week full of uncertainty, controversy, and running around. It [was] unclear [up until the last moment] whether the school year would open on time, and there is a dead end in the diplomatic negotiations, with no end in sight. This minister runs to that world capital, and that official scurries to this country, and the campaign to persuade the international community of the justness of our cause goes on and on... and worst of all, the bungled mission this past Saturday night and its tragic results - which have led to bickering over what exactly happened and who is responsible.

All of this leads us to ask ourselves, why has it been decreed that we must live this way? - With perpetual disputes, with painful and bitter consequences, with uncertainty as to what even the near future will bring, and above all, with the sensation that we have no real leadership in which to trust that its every effort is carried out on our behalf responsibly and carefully.


This week's Torah portion, Parashat Shoftim (Deut. 16,18 - 21,9), relates to the issue of leadership. What must we do in times of uncertainty? The Torah (ibid. 17,8-11) teaches us, "If there arise a matter that is beyond you in judgment... matters of controversy within your gates, then you shall arise and go up to the place [the Holy Temple] which the L-rd thy G-d has chosen. And you shall come to the Levite Priests and to the judge that shall be in those days, and you shall inquire, and they will tell you the judgment. And you shall act according to that which they tell you from that place which the L-rd thy G-d has chosen... and all that they shall instruct you... Do not stray from that which they instruct you, neither right or left."

It is interesting to note about these verses that the teachers and leaders are always mentioned in plural form - except for one case: "the judge that shall be in those days." This reference to the leadership is the subject of a fundamental Rabbinic teaching: "Yiftach [Judges 11] in his generation is equivalent to Samuel in his generation."

On the face of it, the message here is that every generation's leader must be accorded the same respect and must be adhered to. But if we note the names of the leaders chosen to teach us this message of leadership - Yiftach and Samuel - we note an interesting common denominator between the two: Both of them succeeded in creating a consensus, and in leading the entire nation to follow them and their decisions. These were times when all agreed that "the [one] judge" is the leader and should be adhered to. When there is a feeling of confidence in the one leader, then great decisions can be made, for the benefit and salvation of all Israel.


A leader must, therefore, must have the ability to convince his people of his ways, even when these appear to be illogical, and even if they wouldn't otherwise agree. Regarding such circumstances, the Torah says, "Do not stray, neither right or left," to which the famed medieval commentator Rashi quotes the Sages' dictum, "Even if the leaders tell you that right is left and left is right - and all the more so [must you obey] if they tell you that right is right and left is left."

It is interesting to note that the Torah does not use the terms "north" and "south," but rather "right" and "left." The explanation is that the former are absolute and unchanging, and we are certainly not required to ask our leaders about such issues. But "right" and "left" change, and are relative to the direction in which you are facing - when you face your leader, his right is your left, and vice-versa. When you and the leader face the same direction, however, you will both face right or left at the same time. Therefore, what is needed for a true leader - and it is in this way that he is tested - if for him to succeed in turning the face of the nation in the direction in which he is facing.

But the real question is, what should be the correct direction of the leader?


Let us look again at Rashi: "You must listen 'all the more so' if the leaders tell you that right is right and left is left." This is strange - why does anyone need to consult the leaders merely to hear that right is right? Any why must we be ordered to follow such obvious instructions? Rather, this is coming to tell you that there are times when even relative directions such as "right" and "left" can also be absolute! There are times when the "right" is something about which neither we nor our leaders have any choice. There are times when "right" is as absolute as north or south, and when we have no choice nor option to make any other decision. The best example of this: Jerusalem.

The Psalmist says, "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right [hand] be forgotten." When we are talking about Jerusalem, we must ignore *my* right, or *your* right - there is only one "right" - and that is that of G-d: "The right hand of the L-rd is exalted, The right hand of the L-rd accomplishes acts of valiancy" (Psalms 118,16).

This is Jerusalem. There is no alternative.

Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Yossi Sarid, the first hesder student in the history of the State of Israel, is a founder and teacher in the Meretz Educational Center (not to be confused with the Meretz party and its leader MK Yossi Sarid) and the Chairman of the Mevaseret Zion Religious Council.

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