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Dream Justice, Pursue Peace:
The Torah's Art Of Compromise
command to be sensitive to size? He sees
this command to apply only within each
tribal region. In rger clans within, say
Judah, would receive more land than
would smaller clans. However, this sys-
tem, would result in disparities for each
individual allocation. Once again, the
hich is preferable —
result might not be fair.
absolute consistency or
Rabbi Jacob Milgrom, building upon
Abravanel, sees the two proce-
dures as sequential. Each
We often identify Parshat
group would first be assigned a
Pinchas with the former
size of allotment according to
option. When everyone else in
its population. But the loca-
the Israelite camp was stam-
tion of each portion would be
mering, stunned by the forbid-
determined by lottery. This
den liaison between the
would address the legit-
Israelite Zirnri and the
imate needs of larger tribes,
Midianite Cozbi, Pinchas was
while also preserving a sense of
certain what to do. He took a
RABBI DANIEL equality and fairness for every-
javelin in his hand and skew-
ered the two offenders on the
N E VINS
Such compromises are the
spot! Although God praised
Specia 1 to the
of good govern-
Pinchas in the aftermath of his
bold action, Jewish tradition
forged a hybrid system of one
has frowned upon such
body which is equitable for individuals
(the House of Representatives) and
The Torah prefers the path of princi-
that preserves equality between
pled compromise to that of zealous
Senate). Like the Torah, it
action. This truth is illustrated in anoth-
fair on both the individual
er ultimately far more important passage
within the portion (26:52-56).
Moreover, our justices often interpret
Anticipating the conquest of Canaan,
the law in favor of fair compromises
God tells Moses that the land will be
rather than absolute principle. When the
divided among the tribes according to
Supreme Court recently ruled against
their relative size: The most populous
some forms of affirmative action and in
will receive the largest tracts of land.
favor of others, many people were con-
This policy is equitable to individuals,
fused and others were livid. Why could-
yet it slights the smaller tribes. Thus just
n't they have clarified, once and for all,
a verse after the census-based system is
whether our nation should be officially
announced, the Torah clarifies that each
tribe will be assigned its lands by lottery.
For most of the justices, the absolute
Which is it to be, then — a rational
of non-discrimination was only
population-based allocation or a random
of the question. They also
how to ensure a fair society
The traditional commentators strug-
people have a reasonable
gle to reconcile these two principles and
chance to succeed. In other words, they
to understand how, in practice, the sys-
chose principled compromise over
tem worked. Rashi conflates the two sys-
tems. According to him, the entire
Principled compromise is messy and
process was handled by lottery, with the
to practice effectively. Yet the
ballots themselves calling out the loca-
consistency leads to
tion and size of each tribe's allocation.
violence. The Torah
This "sorting hat" system doesn't hew to
teaches us to pursue pleasant paths of
the Torah's command that the Israelites
peace, rather than angry avenues of
match the portion of land to the popula-
tion of each tribe. By Rashi's reading,
humans would not be responsible for
making the system fair.
Ramban understands that the land
If you had been present just
was divided into 12 equal portions, sort-
before Pinchas sprang into action,
ed by lottery. What about the Torah's
what would you have counseled?
Daniel Nevins is a spiritual leader at
Adat Shalom Synagogue.
Numbers 25 ; 10-30:1;
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