Friday, May 13, 2005

Daf Yomi Shabbat 11a: Trusting the Government

On Shabbat 11a, there is a statement that resonated for me:
ואמר רבא בר מחסיא אמר רב חמא בר גוריא אמר רב
אם יהיו כל הימים דיו ואגמים קולמוסים ושמים יריעות וכל בני אדם לבלרין
אין מספיקים לכתוב חללה של רשות
מאי קראה?
אמר רב משרשיא (משלי כה)
שמים לרום וארץ לעומק ולב מלכים אין חקר
Rava bar Mechasia also said in the name of Rav Chama bar Goria in the name of Rav: If all seas were ink, reeds pens, the heavens parchment, and all men scribes, they would not suffice to write down the intricacies of government. Said
Rav Mesharshia said: What verse [teaches this]?
{Mishlei 25:3}

ג שָׁמַיִם לָרוּם, וָאָרֶץ לָעֹמֶק; וְלֵב מְלָכִים, אֵין חֵקֶר. 3 The heaven for height, and the earth for depth, and the heart of kings is unsearchable.

One can read this as discussing the crazy bureaucracy common in modern government. However, the Meiri takes it as follows (citing from my trusty Artscroll):
The gemara is teaching in poetic style that one should always pray for the well-being of the government and should not suspect it of wrongdoing. The workings of a government are so complex that its intent behind any particular operation cannot immediately be discerned. Therefore, if one sees the government engaged in something that seems improper, he should give it the benefit of the doubt.
The focus on praying for the government besides not suspecting it of wrongdoing calls to my mind the question of how much the Meiri is cognizant that his words will eventually be seen by the government, and that he wants to maintain a good relationship between the Jewish people and the government.

However, the message resonates. Politics is often a complicated mess, and there is plenty of room for nuance in analyzing why the President, or specific senators, do what they do. In the past election, and before and after, there has been demonization of President Bush. "He is the next Hitler. He is bent on world domination. He is an idiot chimp who cleverly, and deliberately misled this nation into war. Republicans are evil." As a nice example of this, check out the song "I Hate Republicans." I am frequently annoyed at certain other bloggers who automatically attribute to malice or mal-intent anything Republicans do. The same goes in the other direction as well, in terms of misreading intent of Democrats. In fact, there is room for nuance. While we might not agree with the politics (and positions) of the other side, the issues are truly complex, and often they have valid reasons and considerations for voting or taking action the way they do.

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