August 5, 2011

Like many of you, I have watched the news these last few days related to our debt and wondered to myself, “how did we get to this point?”

As I was reminded by pundits on television on Monday morning, “If you liked the debt ceiling debate of recent days, you probably will love the debate that will occur in the days leading up to Thanksgiving this year.  If you hated the current debate, you probably will despise the one coming up in four months.”

Why did the networks (FOX, CNN, NBC, ABC, etc) say this, because right before Thanksgiving is when the new 12-member special Congressional committee is supposed to come up with its proposals for major entitlement and tax reform. Entitlement reform will most likely mean cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security while tax reform is probably code for tax increases.

It may be possible to get six Democrats and six Republicans to agree on these kinds of painful choices, but it certainly won’t be easy.  In short, the country may have avoided a debt ceiling disaster for now.  But this debate is only just beginning to boil.

Listening intently to this debate I was reminded of a moment at the beginning of our parsha this week, Parashat Devarim.  Moses recalls a moment of crisis when he realized that he, by himself, could not lead the Israelites.  Moses remembers saying in Deuteronomy 1:16-17 (see also Parashat Yitro 18:17), “I cannot bear your disputes and bickering by myself.”  To aid him, he appoints “wise, discerning, and experienced” tribal leaders and judges.  “I charged them to hear out the people and to decide justly between them, Israelites or strangers.  I commanded them to be impartial in judgment, hearing out low and high alike.  I told them to fear no person in rendering a judgment because judgment is God’s.”

In commenting on the difficult burden of making judgments, the early rabbis, many of whom were presiding court judges, compare their judicial responsibility to dealing with fire.  In Midrash Tanhuma it is said, “If you come too close, you will be burnt; if you stray too far, you will be cold.  The art of making judgments is finding the right distance.”

While I am not sure that our politicians and current judges meet all of the standards Moses wanted when creating the court system as our forefathers readied themselves to enter the Land. I do know that now more than ever we need our elected officials to find the art of making judgments in “finding the right distance.”  As cliché as it sounds, the more things change, the more they remain the same.

I was extremely moved as I am sure several of you were too by the return of Congresswoman Giffords, my parent’s congresswoman, to the floor to cast her vote Monday night.  There was a moment during these intense debates where it did not matter where one stood on the debt debate.  Instead, our politicians for a brief moment found that right “distance” and banded together.  Moses too would have been proud.

Many critical debates in our country are on the horizon.  Let us pray that our politicians have the wisdom Moses did in working with others to make the best decisions possible for all of us, our children, and our children’s children.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham