‘When You Rise Up’: Brexit From a Torah Perspective
“When You Rise Up” is the English translation of Beha’alotecha, the name of the Torah’s portion which was read on the Shabbat that followed the UK referendum on Brexit.
Beha’alotecha is regarded as the one of the crucial parts of Torah, because it deals with a moment of change in the Jewish nation’s psyche — one in which the nation has started to move towards its ultimate goal, the Promised Land. The Torah tells us in detail about the decisiveness of the people who opted for freedom, to start to make their journey on the designated route, with a conscious understanding of what they were doing, why and what for.
Remarkably, Beha’alotecha also talks about the people’s complaints almost immediately after beginning their journey toward freedom. They cried out: “Who will feed us meat? We remember the fish that we would eat in Egypt free of charge; the cucumbers, and the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now, our life is parched, there is nothing; we have nothing before our eyes but the manna!” ( Numbers, 11/3-6). Does it not sound astonishingly familiar, in view of the UK referendum and those who are complaining — in utter contempt of democracy?
The portion also tells us about leadership, under the circumstances of making a fundamental decision.
We see in the haftara (post-Torah) reading of the same week, the prophet Zechariah’s famous vision on the soiled garment of Joshua — the change of the leader’s garment for a new, clean one — as a metaphor for the leadership qualities, and God’s angel’s firm instruction to Joshua “to walk in the ways of Creator” and to safeguard the laws that have become the foundation of our civilization.
This amazing concurrence of the Torah portion and Brexit is no coincidence. Torah scholars throughout the ages have demonstrated that certain portions often relate to current events, particularly those of major importance.
Instead of lamenting the “end of Europe,” one needs to take an honest look at the Britain’s departure point: a vast conglomerate of 28 completely different countries, containing 508 million different nations; an incredible bureaucratic machine that, for no reason at all, has dictates how all those millions of people live. It is similar to the Soviet-style management of the 15 republics of the former USSR, plus all the countries of the Warsaw Pact during its existence. This style of management is known as dictatorship.
Though born out of an idea of shared Western-European interests against the Soviet Union and its sphere of influence in the 1950s, and developing into the Common Market in the 1960s and 1970s, the European Union, as every other model of state governing, had and still has its limits.
And herein lies a fundamental mistake of political leaders in the 1990s, who acted hastily to fill the vacuum created by the momentary collapse of the Soviet Union and its global network. But they had no sense of momentum, and — as it turned out — they were ready to compromise too much of the freedom of their own citizens.
Twenty years ago almost to the day of the British referendum on the country’s membership in the EU, the late Baroness Margaret Thatcher — during one of our long meetings at her impeccable office in Belgravia — told me, “The independence of a country is defined by three things: its currency, its borders and its army.”
This conversation took place soon after Sweden, Finland and Austria had become the EU’s newest members, expanding it from 12 to 15 states. Despite the general euphoria, Lady Thatcher was not that happy about it, and I was interested to know why.
“Well, Mrs. Rogatchi,” she said. “I do not believe in delegated responsibility when it concerns the security of a state. I do not believe in the strength and capability of an internationalized army. And I do not believe that any country should voluntarily give up its currency. That would be madness, leading to a complete mess, as the core functions of the state would inevitably be paralyzed inevitably.”
I have heard the private opinions of several European Parliament insiders with whom I work closely that both the European Parliament and the European Commission became largely dysfunctional after the ill-thought massive enlargement in 2004, when 10 more countries joined.
If anyone can depart from what has become a dysfunctional and very expensive behemoth, it is Britain. And I see Brexit as a victory of human spirit — a distinctly British recipe that includes generous portions of common sense, guts and independence.
In my lifetime, there have been three fundamentally meaningful events with tectonic change: the fall of the Berlin Wall, 9/11 and Brexit.
The way to freedom will not be easy; it never is. But it does open the door to new perspectives and greater development, both inside the UK and out.
About this, the Torah is also a guide. It is in the Haftara for Beha’alotecha that the prophet Zechariah tells us something that has become one of the most famous and fundamental principles of Judaism and Christianity: “’Not through armies, and not through might, but through My spirit,’ says Hashem, Master of the Legions.” ( Zechariah, 4/6).
Dr Inna Rogatchi is a scholar, filmmaker and political analyst. She is the author of the internationally acclaimed The Lessons of Survival film – http://www.rogatchifilms.org/lessons-of-survival/. Among her forthcoming books is The Human Connection: Twelve Portraits on the Ruins of the Wall (C). More information at Rogatchi Films – www.rogatchifilms.org, and The Rogatchi Foundation – www.rogatchi.org.