Chukkat: Embracing the Double Standard Toward Israel

There’s no doubt that the world holds Israel to a double-standard. Why is the media so fixated upon a postage-stamp Middle Eastern democracy when the world is rife with tyrants, atrocities, brutality, and all manner of discrimination? Why are Palestinian refugees the only ones in the whole world with a separate, huge UN relief organization?  Why can the French, the Chinese, the British, and any other people – even the Palestinians -- have their own country, whereas a country for the Jewish people is deemed illegitimate?  

There are many reasons: anti-Semitism, regional and global politics, connections of non-Jews to “The Holy Land,” mischaracterization of Jews as practioners of a "religion," etc.  The double-standard is infuriating and intensely dangerous.  And yet, hard as it may be to accept, we Jews should be held to a higher ethical standard of behavior than anyone else.  We don’t claim to be just like any other people, for better or for worse. This week’s Torah portion, Chukkat, provides yet another example that the essence of our existence as a people is the search for holiness.     

According to Rabbi Asher Wasserman’s The Concise Sefer HaChinuch, (ISBN 978-1-59826-019-9) a modern edition of the classic educational text, Chukkat contains just three mitzvot. All pertain to the mysterious Red Heifer procedure for purifying those who comes in contact with a corpse.

The idea of “ritual defilement” seems primitive and irrational.  To our modern mind, contact with a corpse may indeed be unnerving and perhaps also unhygienic, but nothing more.  Rabbi Wasserman, though, explains why Jewish thought takes this much further:

… spiritual impurity is a damaging force, and when a Jew dies the spiritual impurity that rests on the corpse is very strong.  Much more potent than any other type of spiritual impurity, it is called “the father of the fathers of spiritual impurity.”  When a Jew dies, his intelligent and Divine soul departs from his body, leaving behind only his physical body, whose only desire was the lowly, evil and mundane.  Even during the person’s lifetime his body constantly strove to lead him to sin and sully his precious soul.  Accordingly, when the soul – the sublime glory of the body – departs and all that remains is the base and material flesh, it stands to reason that the corpse defiles everything around it.  

This is the reason why Kohanim, who are to serve G-d and the Jewish People in the Beit HaMikdash and thus must maintain an especially high level of spiritual holiness, are precluded from entering a cemetery or touching a corpse, except to bury a close relative.  

But the Red Heifer ritual applied to everyone, not just the Kohanim.  We all are subject to spiritual impurity because, at least at times, we “desire the lowly, evil and mundane.”  Even if we no longer believe that our body's “only desire” is to sin and sully our soul, we can and should accept that the Jewish people exists in order to strive for, and to exemplify, spiritual purity.  I suspect that every religion strives for spiritual purity, but Jews are a people.  Our national homeland, the State of Israel, is, and was established to be (no less in 1948 than in the Bible), the land of the Jewish people (even though, obviously, others live there, too).   

I am by no means justifying and certainly not welcoming the constant, venomous, and hypocritical attacks upon Israel (nor, though, am I suggesting that all criticism of Israel is unfair or wrong; criticizing their own government’s policies and politicians is Israelis’ national pastime!).    

What I am suggesting is that we not automatically reject criticism because it clearly applies to Israel, and/or to Jews, a “double-standard.”  It may well be true that others are being hypocritical in their criticism.  Yet, it is our mission to seek to be the most righteous of peoples and of nations: 

Hear this word, O people of Israel, that the Lord has spoken concerning you, Concerning the whole family that I brought up from the land of Egypt: You alone have I singled out of all the families of the earth – that is why I will call you to account for all your iniquities.  Amos 3:1-2

To at least an extent, therefore, we should accept a “double-standard” criticism of our actions because we should hold ourselves to a higher standard.  If this is not our mission – so clearly set forth both in the Torah and by the Prophets -- why have we deserved to survive for nearly four millennia when so many other peoples have not?   

Our critics’ complaints would be easier to bear if they said, “We criticize your unrighteous behavior because we want you to set an example of righteousness for us.” Or, if not that, then at least: “We are only holding you to the higher standard that you claim for yourself [and/or to which G-d holds you!]”  And indeed, IF they did not seek to weaken or destroy us, holding us to this “double-standard” would be a good thing; something we should not only accept but actually encourage.  We are not suicidal, and it would be foolish -- and worse -- to accept or encourage ill-intentioned criticism from enemies.  But the double-standard in and of itself is not a threat.  Being held to a higher standard reflects who we are supposed to be.  

In sum, we should be righteous, even when others are self-righteous.  

Shabbat shalom and Chodesh Tamuz tov! 

Related Images

  • Chukkat: Embracing the Double Standard Toward Israel

Comments

Comments

There are currently no comments, be the first to post one.

Comment Form

Only registered users may post comments.

A bird that you set free may be caught again, but a word that escapes your lips will not return.
Jewish Proverb