Rabbi David Walk, Education Director

Congregation Agudath Sholom | 301 Strawberry Hill Ave | Stamford, CT 06902 (203)-358-2200 www.agudathsholom.org

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Walk Article-Ki Tisa


KI Tisa-5776

Rabbi David Walk

How does the 'good cop-bad cop' act continue to work?  I mean hasn't everybody seen it already in movies and TV shows?  If, as many claim, the media encourages crime, every criminal must have seen this police tactic and memorized it by now.   The interrogation method was actually documented in a declassified CIA document from 1983:  'The commonest of the joint questioners techniques is the friend and foe routine.  The two questioners display opposing attitudes towards the subject.  For example, the first questioner displays an unsympathetic attitude towards the subject.  He may be brutal, angry or domineering.  He makes it plain that he considers the subject the vilest individual on earth.  At the height of the alienation, the other questioner takes over, sending the first questioner out of the room.  The questioner then displays a sympathetic attitude to the subject, perhaps offering him coffee or a cigarette.  He explains that the actions of the first questioner were largely a result of lack of knowledge of human nature and a lack of human sensitivity.  The subject is largely inclined to have a feeling of gratitude toward the second questioner.  When this technique is employed against the proper source, it will normally gain complete cooperation.  It works best with women, teenagers and timid men (Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual, p. 26-27).'  Wow!  The CIA was clearly writing bad movie scripts.  I'd like to suggest that before this routine was used by Hollywood and Langley it was introduced by our Bible.

In this week's Haftorah (at least the longer version recited by Ashkenazim), Eliyahu is sent by God to see Achav (in English Ahab, of Moby Dick fame), the evil king of the northern kingdom.  The purpose of the visit is to seek an end to the horrible famine, which God has visited upon the land at the zealous request of Eliyahu.  On the way he encounters Ovadia, who serves Achav as a trusted advisor and major domo.  Now Ovadia is described as 'a very devout believer in the Lord. While Jezebel (Achav's wife) was killing off the Lord's prophets, Ovadia had taken a hundred prophets and hidden them in two caves, fifty in each, and had supplied them with food and water (I Kings 18:2-3).'  This way if one hideout is discovered the other may remain safe. Who is this brave Ovadia?  Although historical scholarship disagrees (because the historical context of his book seems to be after the fall of the northern kingdom), tradition (Sanhedrin 39b) identifies him with the prophet Ovadia who has a one chapter book included with the Twelve Minor Prophets.  His piety is emphasized by both his name (Ovadia = servant of God) and the fact that he is the only character in Tanach who is said to revere God greatly.  So why is this zadik in the employ of the evil monarch, Achav?   The answer, I believe, is that he saw that the greatest good could be served by using his position of power to serve the oppressed of the realm, as in the case of the hundred prophets.   I could go further to surmise that this is the very reason our Sages chose this Haftorah (at least the Ashkenazi ones), and what is the parallel in our parsha?  The behavior of Aharon.

Many commentaries are flummoxed over the performance of Aharon during the crisis of the Golden Calf.  How could Aharon help the sinners produce this idol?  The answer proposed by many is that he was trying to delay the process.  He requested that gold be collected, thinking that would take a while.  He suggested that a holiday be proclaimed for the next day, again hoping that this mad dash to idolatry be derailed.  It was all to no avail.  His hope that Moshe would return before this sin could be committed, never materialized.  The zeal of the mob produced a momentum which couldn't be forestalled.  Aharon is ultimately thwarted, but according to many his efforts were admirable.  He remains beloved amongst the people, far beyond the popularity of his brother, Moshe.

Throughout Jewish history we have a disdain for those that we perceive as collaborators.  This is still a sore point in our memory of the Holocaust.  There were, of course, the judenrats or Jewish councils in all the ghettoes, but best known were the sonderkommandos or 'special units', who assisted in the removal of remains from the crematoria in the extermination camps are a case in point.  The 2001 film The Gray Zone documents their moral ambivalence, and chronicles their heroic destruction of one of the three crematoria at Auschwitz.  The new Hungarian film Son of Saul also highlights their dilemma.  It's all too easy to criticize, but these inmates were victims, too.  Few survived.

Our parsha and Haftorah present us with another picture, spiritual giants who worked for the merit of the majority.  If they had been interested in merely their own safety or advancement we would bestow no respect.  However, these brave individuals were laboring for the benefit of the masses.  As a result they were beloved to the people and history grants them a place of honor.  Aharon and Ovadia hold a revered place within this category of those who devoted themselves to the needs of others.

The juxtaposition of our Haftorah with our parsha make us aware of the differing styles of Aharon and Moshe on the one hand, and Eliyahu and Ovadia, on the other.  Aharon and Ovadia worked to accomplish great things within the currents of society, while Eliyahu and Moshe were more aloof outsiders who rained their fire and brimstone down upon the masses.  History seems to give greater credit to Moshe and Eliyahu, but those generations loved Aharon and Ovadia more.  In the final analysis our people have benefitted from the historical roles of good prophet and bad prophet.