A fews years back, for 5764, I wrote a musing based on words found in the haftarah for parashat Bo (Jeremiah 46:13-28.) Today, I muse randomly some more on that subject.
In the second half of verse 20 we read: "…a gadfly from the north is coming."
As I stated then, and will reiterate now, I often find myself playing the role of "gadfly." I’m once again living in the north, so I could be a "gadfly from the north."
Of course, the great commentators usually consider that Jeremiah is referring to the Babylonians as being the enemy from the north. Babylon, I am not. I have no interest in conquest, land acquisition, tributes, and foisting a particular belief system and set of g"ds upon anyone.
Yet I still remain interested in being a gadfly. As I wrote then, there are plenty of dictionary definitions which give "gadfly" a very negative spin. Still, I like to view gadflies as a "provocative stimulus." Even on a matter in which I find myself supporting things, if no one will speak up to question, I will often do it myself. Every issue is worthy of having all aspects discussed and considered. Consensus is a great thing, but I believe consensus is often achieved at the price of some people subsuming their own feelings. That isn’t necessarily bad, and is, in fact, something that is practiced by Quakers and others. The needs of the community as a whole should, in most cases, be the primary consideration.
Think of people who aren’t in a position to control things – like all of Pharaoh’s courtiers who kept telling him "can’t you see Egypt is lost?" Pharaoh could have heeded their advice (or could he, since G"d was playing puppet-master here) and backed down. Yet Pharaoh couldn’t conceive (especially with G*d’s interference) of subsuming his own desires to those of his people. That makes him a very flawed leader (of course, we can never be sure what Pharaoh might have done had G*d not been in control the whole time.)
Pharaoh’s courtiers, however, weren’t afraid to confront Pharaoh with their opinion (though perhaps they should have been.) There have been many other times in history when consensus was achieved at a high price. The Jewish people have, at various times, been silent when they could have been gadflies. The Jewish people have also been victim of those who choose to be silent instead of outspoken. Thank goodness for groups like the White Rose Society, or Pastor Martin Niemoller and his famous "They came for the… and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a…"
I am involved in any number of discussions and causes at the moment in which there is great debate amidst cries for consensus for the common good. Do I subsume my beliefs for the common good? Do I act brazenly like Pharaoh, with wanton disregard for the consequences? How do I know when being a gadfly or being a consensus builder is the better choice? I’m sure there are answers (and yet more questions) about this in Torah, and I intend to spend Shabbat searching for them. (Aside: Have your ever noticed a common typo for search is serach. As in Serach bat Asher. I wonder if there’s something to that?)
Adrian ©2009 by Adrian A. Durlester