Monday, January 30, 2017

The Flaw in the Necessary Ban

One thing Donald Trump cannot be accused of is dragging his feet. 
The dizzying pace of Executive Orders booming out of the Oval Office since the first moment has been described variously as a firehose, fevered, a flurry. . . it is hard to catch one’s breath as the pace of change comes fast and furious on so many issues. 

I cannot remember a time like this, where before you digest one major story two more come out, with some dramatic nonsense stories in between ( e.g. crowd size at the inauguration, how many illegals voted, etc); it is hard to keep up.   Given, in addition, the deep division between those who love him and those who hate him it is – at a minimum – non-stop entertainment, and makes it difficult to pull oneself away from all that and focus on learning and other important matters.

The purpose of this article is not to get into politics. While I was not a Trump supporter throughout the campaign, I must say that I mostly approve of his actions so far.  Getting going on the Dakota pipeline, moving ahead with securing the Mexican border, moving to repeal and replace Obamacare, slashing regulations, and many other orders this week are fine with me.   There is one order, however, that must give a thoughtful person pause, even if you are a Trump supporter.   That order, Executive Order # 13, which calls for extreme vetting  of refugees from “terrorist countries” who are attempting to seek asylum in the United States, has created a firestorm of protest and controversy.

Even after stripping away the bias and the spin (no, it was not anti-Muslim, it was anti-terror prone individuals, it does not apply to most of the Muslim majority nations; the seven countries listed were not determined by Trump, but by the Obama administration in 2015; it does not apply to legal immigrants who are already here, etc. etc.) there are still some aspects that troubled many people about this Order.   It was not planned well.  Not only did many affected people find out about the Order after they had already landed in the US, but even the immigration and border officials who were charged with implementing the policy had no notice or training, resulting in chaos and hysteria and unnecessary suffering which could have been avoided.

Due to the fact that it was done so hastily…with so little planning and consultation with the many parts of the huge Governmental systems that would need to implement it, it caused unnecessary hardship not only for the affected individuals, but also for the Administration; the legitimate complaints about the way it was done have given Trump’s opponents much unnecessary ammunition in their quest to discredit him.  In particular, it has caused great consternation in the Jewish community.  All of us remember all too well a time not too long ago when America’s door was slammed shut in the face of refuges attempting to flee from the inferno of the Holocaust.  The idea that America would turn its back on those fleeing from mayhem, persecution and death is reprehensible and would seem to go against the fundamental greatness of this blessed country.   It is thus quite understandable that so many people, particularly Jews, are up in arms about it.

I therefore find the comparison between today and the period of the Holocaust loathsome.

In truth, however, any comparisons between this order and the policies that caused the St. Louis to be turned back to Europe belie a refusal to see some enormous differences between the two cases.   First of all, this is only a temporary ban enacted until the government can do a better job of keeping out terrorist threats. Moreover, the refusal to grant asylum in those days was due to a combination of protectionism of American jobs in the face of the Depression, overburdening of the welfare system, coupled unfortunately with an unhealthy dose of anti-Semitism.   By contrast, this Executive order is a response to combination of the very real threat that a significant percentage of those posing as refugees are in fact Islamic terrorists, which justifies the Administration’s determination that America not suffer the fate of the European countries that allowed hordes of Islamic refugees in, only to find that the rate of murder, rape and other violent crimes skyrocketed, and whole sections of their great cities have been turned into viper nests of hostility and mayhem. 

Furthermore, a fair-minded observer ought to conclude that there is another huge difference between the two cases.  The desperate refugees in the 1930-40s facing almost certain death were asking nothing more than to come to this country and became loyal and appreciative citizens.  There was no Jewish state that should have taken them in.   In contrast, while there clearly are desperate refugees who need shelter, there is a real danger that many of them come not to be loyal citizens of the United States, but rather to take the Jihad to the “Great Satan” and to do harm to our fellow citizens, as has happened too often in the past few years.   One need look no further than France and Germany and Sweden and Norway and everywhere else these refugees have landed to see how much the benefactors of great largesse appreciate and feel loyalty to their host country.  They have brought great and mounting misery to their host, and have proven countless times to be not only ingrates but a source of tremendous harm in insisting that the host country bend to their demands of Sharia Law rather than their blending in to the host culture.  The ones who should be strongly encouraged to take them in are the Arab countries who share their culture, opinions, religion, and values; encouraged with every lever that America can bring to bear.  I therefore find the comparison between today and the period of the Holocaust loathsome.

Given this state of affairs, a majority of Americans supports the President’s efforts.  Rasmussen polls today show that 57% of likely voters support “a temporary ban on refugees from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen until the federal government improves its ability to screen out potential terrorists from coming here” 33% are opposed, and 10% are undecided.

Nevertheless, I strongly believe that such a necessary and important policy goal could have been achieved with far more effectiveness, less chaotic harm to blameless refugees who were caught unawares, and less collateral damage to support for the Administration had been done with more wisdom and deliberation.  Despite the obvious fact the Administration wanted to do this quickly to avoid giving the bad guys notice of what was about to go down, they could have (a) given a five day warning, coupled with intensive scrutiny during those five days, (b) given more notice and training to the authorities at the airports and elsewhere who would have to carry out the directive, (c) coordinated with other branches of the security establishment who were apparently in the dark about this, (d) made a greater effort to explain why these seven countries (it was based on previous law passed by the Obama Administration) , (e) clarify the status of green card holders who were abroad, and why any of them might have a hard time returning, and other items that those far more expert than I could propose.  But it seems that getting this out quickly, letting the chips fall where they would, became the paramount concern.

Which brings me to the Torah Portion of the week.   We read in Parshat Bo of the Exodus from Egypt, and how, finally, Pharaoh not only lets the Israelites out of Egypt, but drives them out in a hurry.  On the Seder night we state, as one of the highlight moments:

מַצָּה זוֹ שֶׁאָנוֹ אוֹכְלִים, עַל שׁוּם מַה? עַל שׁוּם שֶׁלֹּא הִסְפִּיק בְּצֵקָם שֶׁל אֲבוֹתֵינוּ לְהַחֲמִיץ עַד שֶׁנִּגְלָה עֲלֵיהֶם מֶלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְּלָכִים, הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא, וּגְאָלָם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: וַיֹּאפוּ אֶת-הַבָּצֵק אֲשֶׁר הוֹצִיאוּ מִמִּצְרַיִם עֻגֹת מַצּוֹּת, כִּי לֹא חָמֵץ, כִּי גֹרְשׁוּ מִמִּצְרַיִם וְלֹא יָכְלוּ לְהִתְמַהְמֵהַּ, וְגַם צֵדָה לֹא עָשׂוּ לָהֶם.

This Matzah that we eat, symbolizes what? It symbolizes the great haste with which we left Egypt -- haste such that we could not even wait for the dough to rise as we rushed out of Egypt.

This rushing that occurred is referred to several times in the Torah as חִפָּזוֹן֙ Chipazon, the great haste and speedy urgency with which the Exodus came.

It is very interesting that the prophet Yeshayahu, in referring to the time of the Moshiach says the following:

כִּ֣י לֹ֤א בְחִפָּזוֹן֙ תֵּצֵ֔אוּ וּבִמְנוּסָ֖ה לֹ֣א תֵלֵכ֑וּן
כִּֽי־הֹלֵ֤ךְ לִפְנֵיכֶם֙ ה' וּמְאַסִּפְכֶ֖ם אֱלֹהֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃

For not with (Chipazon) haste shall you go forth and not in a flurry of flight shall you go, for the Lord goes before you. . .  (52:12)

The contrast is clearly drawn:  While at the Exodus from Egypt, an essential part of it was that you went out in haste, in the future it will be not in haste, but in slow deliberate progress.  Various commentaries, including the Maharal (Netzach 47) and Bnei Yisasschar (Nissan 8), make the point that the hasty exit from Egypt was not ideal, but rather was made necessary by the low spiritual level of the people, who were at the proverbial 49th level of Tum’ah (spiritual defilement); had they not  been taken out at that time, they would have never been able to  leave.  Without getting into that whole issue, the implication is clear that leaving in such a rush was a necessary evil.

The results of this hasty departure were quite evident later in the story.   The people demonstrated time and again that they were not really ready to leave Egypt, and although they were a great generation (Dor Deah), and  reached  awesome spiritual heights at Sinai, nevertheless after one bout of complaints after another, they eventually proved themselves unworthy to go into the promised land, and perished in the desert; only the next generation was ready to truly leave Egypt behind and to go into Eretz Yisrael.   In the future, however, the Geulah will come slowly (Kim’a Kim’a), bit by bit, as we move towards the Final redemption, as “all good things come and develop slowly”.  ( Shem M’Shmuel Shoftim 5676 quoting Midrash Shir Hashirim.  I will write more about this in continuing my series on the Isaac Covenant).

The danger of acting with chipazon is discussed earlier in the Torah as well, in the case of Reuven.  He is censured by his father in Parshas Vayechi, instead of getting a blessing, for acting Pachaz Kamayim , swiftly as water, and not properly thinking through the implications of his actions, resulting in tragic results.

This is a lesson that the Trump Administration might well take to heart.   It was important to hit the ground running, and to show that the President intended to take action and deliver on his election promises.  However, when issuing orders that have such huge ramifications, affect so many people, and  can be criticized so easily if things do  not go smoothly, time should have been taken to get it right.   The order was taken with too much chipazon, and thus caused unnecessary hardship and received avoidable criticism.  With his ill-planned haste, Trump did himself and those who could have easily seen the importance of this order a great disservice.

It is a lesson we all should take heed of and apply in all of our dealings, following the advice of the very first Mishna in Pirkei Avos: “Hevu Mesunim Badin”, be deliberate in judgment.   Although it is, of course,  often important to move quickly and not  delay unnecessarily, at the same time it is crucial to take the time to think things through and plan properly, for the betterment of all.

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