Thursday, January 10, 2013

Compromise? Yes and No

The parsha of the week, Va'aira, contains in the main the first seven plagues G-d brought on the Egyptians as a prelude to the Exodus. But it is the introductory section of the reading I found compelling this year. You may recall, at the close of last week's reading Moshe had complained to G-d that since his mission to redeem the Israelites began it had only gotten harder for them. The Pharaoh had made harsher decrees. G-d responds to Moshe at the outset of our parsha and renews the charge to
Moshe to go demand of the Pharaoh that he let the people go.

Then, almost as a non sequitor the Torah begins an account of the lineage of Moshe and Aharon. It tells us the pedigree of the whole tribe of Levy and even of Reuvain and Shimon, Levy's older brothers, all, according to traditon, just so we know who Moshe and Aharon are. Then the Torah tells us something puzzling.

The verses read:

"This is Moshe and Aharon to whom G-d spoke telling them to take out the Children of Israel from Egypt. It is they who spoke to the Pharaoh to let the Children of Israel leave Egypt.They are Moshe and Aharon."

The redundancy in the verse is obvious. Why three times are Moshe and Aharon referenced, twice by name and once by pronoun? What is the Torah attempting to convey?

Rashi in his commentary on the verses brings the Gemara. It explains, the Torah redundancy is meant to emphasize that throughout the process, from their initial call to the exodus, Moshe and Aharon remained unchanged. They were consistant and uncompromised.

Is being uncompromising a virtue? From the reading it would seem so. Yet perhaps we need to think again. In the Book of Proverbs we find, "Who is wise? One who understands the meaninfg of things." The Hebrew word used for "meaning" is 'pesher'.
Interestingly enough 'pesher' in Hebrew is the root for the word 'peshara', which means compromise. In the judicial process, the 'bet din' (Jewish court), is charged wherever possible to make a judgement based on 'peshara', rather than the letter of the law.

How do the words 'pesher', translated as 'meaning' and 'peshara', translated as compromise, relate? I think the answer is that in compromise we forego the victory we may have in the individual battle for the larger agenda of winning the war.
In compromising we see not the isolated instance but its meaning and place within the context of our life and goals. To compromise we must know the meaning of something, what its consequence will be. Once aware of the 'pesher', compromise, or 'peshara' becomes important and at times necessary! How tragic are the stories of those who are uncompromising in matters that in truth are small, yet large in the eyes of the one stating them...and large in the cost the uncompromising incur due to their insistance.
Even, granted they are right, they cause strife in families and communities that
make their make their victory hollow. Their victories are nothing but tragedies.

So if what I write is true, how is it that Moshe and Aharon are praised for being consistant and uncompromising?

The answer is clear and oh so significant. There are two kinds of compromises, the compromise of an idea, and the compromise of self. Yes, absolutely we need to be ready to give up on the battles over ideas, even when we are right, if it serves the larger meaning of our lives. Rav Arush in his books on making a successful marriage instructs husbands to never crticize their wives, never! It is not that the husband is not right. It is not that the criticism is not valid. Husbands should not criticize because the 'truth' they tell their wives will prove to unhinge the peace of the home and family. More good than any particular correction will achieve is the harm potentially done by hurtful critique to a healthy and loving relationship. Understanding something in its context demands compromise.

But compromise of self is another matter entirely. We must never give ourselves away.
We must be forever true to who we are and at all costs. As Janice Joplin said "Don't compromise yourself. You are all you've got!"
We are given the pedigree of Moshe and Aharon to confirm who they are. They are no pretenders on a stage. They knew themselves.
Moshe and Aharon went before the Pharaoh. They had to confront the great powers of the world. Yet they remained who they were as persons. They did not change themselvs to curry favor. And even with G-d, Moshe never waivers in his insistance that he is not right for his mission. Even before G-d Moshes insists on being true to how he sees himself.

The problem most of us have is that we struggle to distinguish between the two types of compromise. All too often we fight over an idea we believe in as if it is our selves that we are defending and to surrender would mean giving our selves away.
We may win the battle but at a tragic cost. And in most cases the victory of our idea turns out to be meaningless in short order.
And at times we give our very selves away inorder to prevail and succeed. We give ourselves a pass saying that we are only acting and that inside we remain true to form. We defend our compromise. Yetis that true? How many a wife has lost her self in her marriage by compromising her integrity of person inorder to save the home. To give who we are away is never okay!

Compromise is both good and bad. It depends on the issue at stake.
Forever we need to be humble and flexable enough to compromise on an idea.
Forever we need to be strong and courageous enough to never compromise who we are no matter the cost.

And forever we need the sagacity and wisdom to discern between the two!

Shabbat Shalom

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