Joseph Lieberman from a Torah Perspective

Rabbi David B. Hollander - The Jewish Press, (NY) - January 17, 2003

Many years ago in Eastern Europe, the poritz - feudal landlord - for whom a Jewish caretaker worked, pleasantly surprised his Jewish employee. This rich, powerful poritz asked the humble Jew to invite him to the upcoming Passover seder. He had heard a lot about a seder and was anxious to witness one. The poritz came and was fascinated with all that he saw and the melodies he heard. But one ritual impressed him most: the conclusion, when all arose and with great fervor prayed: "Leshana haba'a bi Yerushayim" - next year in Jerusalem!".

Through the poritz did not understand one word, the sheer fervor made him inquire. He was told that the Jews were persecuted, and therefore, they prayed to G-d to return them to Jerusalem.

When the next Passover season came around, the poritz came to the seder again. The Jewish host feared that the poritz might ask him tauntingly, "What happened to your last years' prayer - next year in Jerusalem?" So he uttered a prayer asking, "G-d help us, return us to Zion, for I am ashamed of this non-Jew!"

This story recently came to mind when Senator Joseph Lieberman was in Israel and announced as loudly as he could that the Jews have no right to live on "occupied territory." We are painfully ashamed because very recently, a non-Jew, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, defended Israel, and pointedly referred to the West Bank as "so-called occupied territory." Senator Lieberman, who calls himself an Orthodox Jew, does not stop from pontificating that part of the Holy Land given by G-d to the Jews is forbidden to Jews.

Mr. Hirsch Wolf, a prominent Orthodox Jew, known as a vigorous supporter of Torah schools in Israel, commented a few days ago that Senator Lieberman should move out of Connecticut, because that state and other states are all occupied territory, taken by Europeans from the native Indians.

Yes, there is alas, a gaping divide between the modern Joseph Lieberman and the Joseph of whom we read in this week's sedra (Torah reading) who, despite his rise from an immigrant slave to the heights of political power, did not change and remained the original "Joseph the righteous" (Rashi on Shemos 1:5).

What about the Josephs of our time who rose to high political position? Are they the same Josephs they were before they reached out for even higher positions? It is on account of Joseph's legacy to all Jews that Moshe Rabbeinu carried aloft for all to see the bones of Joseph to be buried in Eretz Yisrael even as the rest of the Jews were busily engaged in filling their pockets with the precious jewels left by the Egyptians.

Our sages comment on the words in the Sedra "And Moshe took with him the bones of Joseph" (Shemos 13:18). They say that while all Jews were busy with the loot left by the drowning Egyptians, Moshe was occupying himself with the mitzvah of keeping the oath taken by the Jews in Egypt to take with them the bones of Joseph (Yalkut Shimoni 2:27).

What lesson from Joseph's life did Moshe seek to impart to the Jews at this critical turning point of exodus from slavery to freedom?

Joseph was the authentic prototype of the Jew who recognises that despite the great heights he may reach in the diaspora, he must assume that he will not be allowed to keep the gains that he attained, nor will his contributions to his adopted country be appreciated by posterity. Therefore, he should like the Joseph of old, hold on to his heritage and transmit it to his children.

It is difficult to have such high expectation from our modern American Joseph. Yet, one would still expect some humility, some integrity and some fairness in judging who is at fault in the current terror war in the State of Israel. Lieberman deplored the "desperate" humanitarian condition of the Palestinians without stating clearly that the sole responsibility for this "desperate humanitarian condition" of the Palestinians lies with the Arabs, who train their sons and daughters to kill themselves in the process of killing Jews.

This shows how far the current Joseph has drifted from his Biblical namesake. He wears his alleged Orthodoxy on his sleeve and uses it as a campaigning point. This is most unbecoming and un-Jewish.

Judaism teaches Jews not to make our religion a tool for personal gain. It is not possible to calculate the damage to Israel that is the direct result of his shocking partiality to the open enemies of both Israel and America. The use of the term "Orthodox Jew" of "observant Jew" who does not travel on the Sabbath or eat non-Kosher food is totally irrelevant to one's fitness to serve this great country. Being an Orthodox Jew requires first integrity and principles.

We are now celebrating Tu B'Shavat, the New Year of the Trees. Our sages point out that fruit-bearing trees are not heard (the fruit absorbs the sound of the wind), while the non-fruit bearing trees are heard, and when the latter challenges the former asking why their sound is not heard, they answer "We do not need to be heard for our fruit speaks for us" (Bereishit Rabbah 16).

The is a lesson to all. We need less sound and more fruit! The loud, false accusation about Jews in "occupied territory" can only yield bitter fruit.

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