March 2, 2024
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Shelach 5775: Peer Pressured, Theoretically

If the Divine can’t face down communal “peer pressure” what hope is there for the rest of us?

Moses, once again, steps up to defend the Jewish people as God, in response to the sin of the spies, threatens to destroy them. But Moses does not talk about what is right, or ask for justice. He does not ask God to show mercy, and there is no attempt at getting the Jews to repent.

He appeals, as it were, to rank fear. Moses suggests to God that it will look bad for him, if the Jews are destroyed. That the nations of the world will say God had failed. Or rather, instead of failure, he destroyed the Jews before an attempted conquest of Israel.

God knows the truth. Why care about how everyone will see it?

Because, it matters. There are choices and consequences that, as it were, matter more than truth. It isn’t whether or not it is objectively true, but how it will be seen.

And God backs down. He listens. He forgives.

The lesson is that sometimes it does matter how it plays on the street. It does matter if people will misunderstand.

In politics and government, it is not enough to be right. How it looks matters. How it plays, matters. What people think is important.

Words to consider. Ideas to ponder. Politics and the parsha.

Howie Beigelman works at the intersection of nonprofit advocacy and Jewish communal affairs. Follow him on Twitter @howielb.

By Howie Beigelman

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