If the Shoe Flies, Throw It

28 Jan

Yesterday the State of Israel once again pushed the limits of Western society to enter that select club of countries that have introduced shoe throwing as the latest expression of discontent.  A 55-year-old man in the “throes” of  an ugly divorce expressed his anger with the high court of the land by tossing his footwear at Judge Beinish.  

Headlines on the news and in the papers described this act as a new low for this democratic society, yet another red line crossed. They spoke about what this says about Israeli society as a whole, and what it will take to reverse this horrible trend of disrespect.

My frist reaction was to consider the reports as sensationalistic exaggerations for the sake of creating controversy.  This was just one man – one incident – what was all the hype about?

And then I thought about a verse in this Shabbat’s Torah reading that has been bothering me all week – and considered that possibly old Shoeless in Jerusalem had given me a new insight into understanding…

Chapter 17, verse 3 reads in Hebrew:

וַיִּצְמָא שָׁם הָעָם לַמַּיִם, וַיָּלֶן הָעָם עַל-מֹשֶׁה; וַיֹּאמֶר, לָמָּה זֶּה הֶעֱלִיתָנוּ מִמִּצְרַיִם, לְהָמִית אֹתִי וְאֶת-בָּנַי וְאֶת-מִקְנַי, בַּצָּמָא

Most translations you will find of this verse smooth over a very strange grammatical issue in this verse.  The verse talks about the acts of the nation – the Am – and yet it offers a quote that seems to clearly be worded in the singular.  Here is how it reads literally:

The people began to suffer thirst because of the lack of water, and they began demonstrating against Moses.  “Why did you take us out of Egypt,” they said.  “Do you want to make me, my children, and my livestock die of thirst?”

It has been bothering me all week.  Why does the Torah change from the first person plural to the first person singular here?  Why does it say “me” and “my” instead of “us” and “our?” 

It think the Torah might be making a very significant point here. Societies crosses red-lines as a spin-off result of the inital chutzpadic behavior of the few. In the desert, the nation called out for water – this, the second time in only a few weeks – following the lead of one man who liked to complain.  The Torah wants us to know that murmurings among the Israelites began only after the first “shoe dropped,” after the head-of-household lodged his personal complaint.  Then the proverbial flood gates opened and the nation complained, each one about his own personal needs and hardships.  Even in the wake of hardships, they did not see themselves as one nation, under the leadership of one God. 

The Israeli shoe-throwing incident does have the potential of creating an epidemic of disrespect for the justice system and all that it stands for. 

However, it need-not be a comment on all of Israeli society.  It need not become an opening for others to do the same and even worse.   The red lines will stay in tact as long as the society can find ways to distance itself from those who dare to cross. 


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