One of my favorite holidays has always been Passover. Some years, it is because of the first form of civil disobedience, others it is because of the crucial role of women, and still others because of hope that right can prevail. Subconsciously the real reason might be because I know who is right and who is wrong. Justice is clearly labeled. Cruelty and inhumanity are standing in clear view. No wonder Disney has chosen to remake this famous story again this year. After all, Disney is famous for solving life- threatening stories where Justice is defined in the first 5 minutes of the story. Ironically, the two words missing from almost all Disney films and the Exodus story are compromise and complicated.
Obviously there are many scary cases where compromise is just not possible - slavery, tyranny, and genocide, to name a few. But what about all the other cases, all the other times when Justice and Right can be compromised by mitigating circumstances? What if wisdom cannot discern absolutely the right path to Justice? In many ways, this is the situation today in American politics across our country, a time when people are struggling to balance goods: jobs and the environment; balancing the budget and helping those in need; defending our country and welcoming the stranger, to name a few. So often these discussions leave me wondering: when did compromise become a bad word?
When determining Jewish law, the assumption is that the deciders are all experts in halachah/Jewish law, as I would assume that all who are elected by American citizens have an opinion worthy of understanding and taking seriously. In this vein, if you take all the traditional commentators of halachah and replace them with politicians, government employees, and commentators, you will understand why I think compromise should be considered right even if the solution has wrong embedded in it. Rabbi Yehiel Epstein (1835-1905) wrote in his introduction to the Hoshen Mishpat section of the Aruch HaShulchan, “Every dispute between ... decisors of halachah comes in order to provide for a rich understanding of the issue; they are the words of a living God,.... And actually, this is the glory of our holy and pure Torah; the whole of Torah is called a song, and the song is in its glory when the voices are different from one another. ..... One who wanders into the sea of Talmud will take note of a variety of pleasures in the presence of multiple voices, different one from the other.”
When did Compromise become a bad word? When did Right and Justice become so easily identifiable? When did we forget that Pharaoh’s Achilles heel was his fear of the unknown? As it is written in Ex. 1:9-10, “And he said to his people, Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we; Come on, let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply, and it may come to pass, that, when there would be any war, they should join our enemies, and fight against us; and so get them out of the land.” (Emphasis added, of course.)
How would history have been changed if Pharaos had been willing to meet with the Israelites, learn about their concerns, understand their plight, and share his fears and obligations? How would history have been changed if Pharaoh had been willing to compromise on what he needed and wanted? After all, we are not commanded to overtake or become Justice but rather to pursue it. May we all be given the wisdom necessary to continue the pursuit of Justice in the coming year.