Operating Within the System by Ben Notis


When a social order is close to perfect, it is hard to imagine that some would take advantage of their rights, using them for their own benefit. In Parashat Devarim, such a breach of societal ethics is contrasted with a productive aspect of protocol. Moshe, in describing the Cheit HaMeraglim [the sin of the spies], states, “VaTikrevun Eilai Kulechem” “And you all approached me” (Devarim 1:22). At that time, Bnei Yisrael approached Moshe and brazenly demanded to scout out the land of Israel. The word “Kulechem,” translated as “all of you” disregards any semblance of order, seeming to imply that “all” of Bnei Yisrael disrespectfully approached Moshe. Indeed, Rashi, commenting on that same Pasuk, explains that the people’s approach to Moshe consisted of “...an unruly crowd, children pushing elders and elders pushing the leaders” (ad. loc. s.v. VaTikrevun Eilai Kulechem). Despite this disrespectful request, Bnei Yisrael were allowed to spy the land of Israel, an event that led to a spiritual disaster; a disaster so big, the only remedy was an extra forty years in the wilderness.

        In contrast to Bnei Yisrael’s request to send spies, Moshe states later in Sefer Devarim that during the Revelation at Har Sinai, Bnei Yisrael approached Moshe in a much more orderly fashion. The Pasuk states, “VaTikrevun Eilai Kol Rashei Shivteichem VeZikneichem” “And the heads of your tribes and your elders approached me” (5:19). In this situation, the leaders of Bnei Yisrael, overwhelmed with the experience of hearing God’s voice directly, requested politely that Moshe ask Hashem to relate the rest of the Torah to Moshe, who would then relate what he learned to Bnei Yisrael. Rashi expounds that this approach of Moshe was “in the proper order, children honoring the elders…and elders honoring the heads of the tribes” (1:22) Perhaps because of its decency, this request did not need an intermediary to relay the request to Hashem, and instead, God directly responded affirmatively, agreeing to relate the rest of the Torah to Moshe.

        In such a system, no bureaucracy existed; anyone could approach Moshe as he pleased, because the political system was based on a code of honor and equal opportunity. In such a system it was easy to appeal reasonable issues to a leader, who had originally made himself available, allowing every person appeal to him directly. The people at the Revelation requested politely, and their request was granted because they did not take advantage of “the system” for their benefit; the people at the Cheit HaMeraglim requested brazenly, and their request led to a spiritual catastrophe. Though political systems today are far from perfect, sometimes it is better to operate within a system, especially if it is one which gives its citizens many freedoms, than it is to cause havoc by skewing the system, no matter how bad it may be, into one that works to one’s benefit.

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