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A weekly column tying current events into the Torah portion

by Joseph Cox
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer



The Torah portion of Yitro has always been one of my favorites. I'm sure we all know a rabbi who is a spiritual leader who isn't so good at the earthly stuff. You know, the type who forgets to put oil in the car. These people are incompetent at running some things but are, nonetheless, spiritual leaders.

This week’s Torah portion is one of my favorites because I identify with Yitro. While my friends and family might disagree, I think of myself as an earthly character who isn't so good at the spiritual stuff. This Torah portion shows that people like me can be useful too.

At the beginning of this portion, Moses is the only judge for the entire Jewish people. Moses has set himself a task - to judge between one Jew and another and to serve as the voice of God in all disputes. As Yitro points out, that task is too great. It will destroy both Moses and the people. So Yitro, who is a non-spiritual man, basically a business administrator, says, "I applaud what you're doing, I share your goals - but you're doing it all wrong." He then sits down and lays out how to do it right. Moses, Yitro explains, must delegate. He must appoint judges, educate them, and create an appeals system where only the thorniest and most difficult cases actually reach Moses. Moses can then impart more of the law, have it carried out more effectively and not go crazy in the process. All of these are laudable goals. Indeed, Yitro's approach enables a spiritual man who is not of this world to carry out his mission.

Today we have a man who is half Moses and half Yitro. His name is President Bush. Bush has shown from the very beginning that he isn't a policy guy. He has a spiritual side - a conception of good and evil -and he has a worldly side - genuine management talent. He doesn't get involved in the policy, he is a superb delegator, and he assigns most tasks to those beneath him. Only the biggest issues are presented to him.

Obviously, President Bush isn't Moses - he certainly isn't a prophet of God. However, Bush is, like Moses, a judge. President Bush isn't a judge in the U.S. - he holds no formal title - but as the leader of the United States he has chosen to become the judge of the entire world. Just as Moses had a law to pass down to the Jewish people, Bush has a loose definition of good and evil to pass down to humanity.

Bush, like Yitro, is delegating the task. Bush knows the U.S. can't sit down and actively judge the entire world. We don't have the army, the will, or the might to carry out such a task. Other presidents might have invaded Afghanistan en masse, but Bush is a delegator. He gave the task to others and had the U.S. military only solve the thorniest of problems. This is a tremendously effective approach, and the only one that can be successful.

In light of this week’s Torah portion, it seems like our president has been listening to Yitro. It is also clear, unfortunately, that he hasn't been listening closely enough. You see, Yitro doesn't only tell Moses to appoint judges, he tells him what kind of to appoint. Yitro says, "... you shall discern from among the entire people, men of accomplishment, God fearing people, men of truth, men who despise avarice..."

Here, we have a list of attributes that good judges, judges who will carry out Moses' mission, must have. The problem we face today is that President Bush's delegates in the war on terror fit none of these criteria.

For the most part, the leaders Bush has chosen as delegates are not men of accomplishment. Certainly, they are warlords and leaders of armed groups of men. They were and are successful. But accomplishment, as Yitro uses the term, is positive accomplishment. Enforcers for the USSR, psychotic drunks, unelected tyrants of small districts, dictators of countries - those are not men of accomplishment. If a track record is needed to be a delegate and a judge, they are completely lacking.

Are they God fearing? What is a God fearing man? I would think that a person more concerned with what's right than what's expedient would fulfill this qualification. Do you think President Musharrif fits this bill? Is he supporting the U.S. because of his sense of what is good and right - or because he is too scared to be on the other side? It seems that too many of our delegates in Afghanistan are not God fearing. They simply fear us. This quality makes these men absolutely untrustworthy - and unfit delegates.

Finally, do our delegates despise avarice? The question here isn't whether they like money and wealth - it is whether they are greedy beyond their just desserts. So, are our delegates despisers of avarice? I would hardly think so. It appears that most of them will fight for whomever pays the bills. As independent delegates, they have little conception of what the good fight is - they only know which side offers the best payoff.

There are two possible objectives in this war on terror. One objective is to eliminate terror. If that is the goal then Bush's delegates are decent selections. However, Bush repeats again and again that we are fighting a war of good against evil and that we must buttress and support the good while eradicating the evil. In this sense, these delegates are no better for Bush than they would have been for Moses. A court system with corrupt judges might manage to be an effective prosecuting force, but it will never be a force for good.

Would it be possible to appoint appropriate judges as our delegates? The answer is, absolutely. Our definition of a good delegate is one who respects individual rights and is a representative of the people. Such people already exist and some of them are already our delegates. What we must do is raise their profiles, make them more prominent, and reward them for their steadfast support of what is right and good.

President Bush may be a great manager, and he might have a great mission, but he has allowed his management talent to undermine his ultimate mission. As the war on terror progresses, every effort must be made to choose delegates who understand good and evil and who truly share our side of this monumental conflict.


Joseph Cox, a close friend of the Torah from Dixie family, is the founder of He writes a weekly column tying current events into the Torah portion

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