Sign In Forgot Password

Commentary on Tanakh Discussion January 11, 2021: Is There a Law of Consequences? 

Don Perlmutter

Tanakh and Lessons for Today
Rabbi Edery suggested that the Tanakh is best appreciated if one reads the text then steps back and reflects on the insight it might reveal: How does this relate to my world now? 

After the momentous civil insurrection that occurred in our nation’s capital over the last week, our discussion was dominated by reflection and the lessons we might draw from this trauma. 

The subject of “American Exceptionalism” was raised in this context. Why is America unique? Perhaps the answer lies in the emphasis that American institutions place on the human values of kindness, respect, and fairness. Or, perhaps, because we are a pluralistic society, we are averse to domination by one culture, nationality, ethnic group, or religion. Perhaps we are exceptional because our system purports to create “equal opportunities." Because of this, hopeful immigrants continue to flow here to pursue their dreams and seek asylum. America historically has exemplified these qualities and has justifiably been deemed a “beacon” to the world.   

But we are exceptional also for darker qualities: Violence is endemic in our culture, and a fixation on guns is a corollary to that. When mixed with a false sense of “rugged individualism," a dangerous brew is rendered. A large segment of our population now has armed itself and taken to the streets acting on conspiracy theories. Paradoxically, there is nothing individualistic about mob behavior motivated by the lies of manipulative leaders.     

The conclusion we reached is that America, with all its high ideals, is imperfect because it is populated by humans who are imperfect. We may encounter the same pitfalls as other nations, but our history, our laws, and our collective humanity guide us away from them. Here, we are all “the other." Those who challenge that notion must be pushed from the mainstream to the fringe. We must ensure that extremist racist principles do not permeate, or even influence, our institutions.    

The Megillah Revisited in 2021
The text we read today, from the Book of Esther (taken from Ketuvim in the Tanakh), extended the discussion above since it relates to abuse of power, a recurring theme in Tanakh. After his treachery was revealed, in an act of poetic justice, Haman was hung on the very gallows he had constructed for Mordechai. Furthermore, the king passed an edict that allowed Jews to defend themselves. 

So, is there a Law of Consequences that drives human affairs? Extreme and repressive regimes are simply not sustainable. Ultimately, abused populations rise up and evil crumbles under its own weight. We may argue about whether this is an expression of God’s will or man’s inherent craving for freedom and justice. A discussion for another day…

Wed, July 17 2024 11 Tammuz 5784