Don’t Ask NOW!

Oct 27th, 2011 by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Portion of the Week
I’m still receiving questions about Halacha’s perspective on the deal to free Gilad Shalit. The answer is, “I’m not sure.” My question is, “Why are you asking now rather than five years ago?”

People are still asking me about the Halacha regarding the community’s response to sex abuse stories from a few years ago. My response is, “Rather than wait for the next tragic case, we should formulate a thorough Halachic system before we again are forced to face the issue.”

I am often asked to rule on complex business arrangements when partners are arguing. My response always begins, “Did you consult a Halachic authority before negotiating the terms of your partnership?”

When couples come to ask for Halachic guidance for their relationship, I ask, “Did you study the laws of marriage before you married?”

Why do we wait until after the fact to consult Halacha?

This is an ancient issue: We find no indication of Noah, during the 120 years he was working on the Ark, and the next year spent inside the Ark, asking God or even considering what he should do after the Flood. How does someone spend more than a century preparing for a Flood not plan for life afterward?

The Midrash teaches that Noah took a vine from the Garden of Eden to plant after the Flood, which is not planning anything other than attempting to recreate the world as it was before. The verse describes Noah as, “The man of the earth (9:20),” another Adam. Perhaps Noah believed that he, described by God as, “Righteous before Me (7:1),” could succeed where Adam failed. How does a man who believes and even plans to be the successful Adam end up, “drunk, and he uncovered himself within his tent”? The only thing at which Noah succeeds in contributing to the future is blessing and cursing his children. (Which, of course, raises the question of how does a failed Noah offer blessings that shape the future of mankind?) If Noah possessed such power, imagine what he could have accomplished with more planning, with guidance from God.

“But I will establish My covenant with you (6:18).” “And as for Me, behold, I establish My covenant with you and with your offspring after you (9:9).” God repeatedly speaks to Noach of the future, and yet, Noah does not respond with forward thinking. It’s as if Noah is stuck in his role of saving the remnant of the past and is unwilling, perhaps unable to plan. A person who is constantly looking at his previous roles, preserving the past, will not learn how to use the very strengths that allow him to save the world to build a new one. And that, is where the issue of when do we consult Halacha, comes into play.

The same people who wait to ask for Halachic guidance about negotiating with Hamas, responding to sexual abuse allegations, dealing with business conflict, and guidance in relationships, will ask about Shabbat, Kashrut and Family Purity, before a question arises. They approach Halacha that doesn’t challenge them to rethink all they are doing. They hesitate to ask Halacha about how to plan, how to challenge their perceptions, and how to recreate their world.

Couples will come to a rabbi to resolve a conflict about an offer of a new job that will demand more hours at work, allowing less time at home (a serious Halachic issue), after the job has been offered, rather than discuss the question before the husband starts looking for another job. Their decision that he has to look for another job has been made. They have made up their minds, and are unaware or unwilling to submit their decision to a Halachic perspective. They want to protect their decision from being challenged. Halacha is perceived as interference. They are willing to, “Walk with God 6:9),” as did Noah, unwilling to, “Walk before Me (17:1),” as did Abraham. They are interested in keeping their marriage steady. They do not hear Halacha’s call to make marriage extraordinary.

Halacha can be used to “walk with,” to help a person keep his life on a steady course, or it can be used to, “Walk before Me,” to consider new ways to approach life. When we examine a government’s decisions after they are made, we are sending a message that Halacha is another voice of criticism. We are failing to project Halacha as a vision of how we can approach future issues.

The question is not about the Halachic justification of the deal for Gilad. We dare not send him the message that his freedom was bought at the expense of Torah. Our challenge is to formulate a Halachic response that offers a serious option for the future. Abraham, the one who, “Walk(ed) before Me,” is the man of Halacha. Noah was not. He was a great man who saved the world, but he did not know how to build a new one.

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