We all watched the government grind to a halt last weekend as Democrats and Republicans refused to budge on their respective positions. Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, it was frustrating, at best, to watch mature adults refuse to budge and hurl childish attacks across the isle at one another, each blaming the other for the obstinance that shut down national parks, halted payments to federal workers and assistance to the elderly and put on hold the vital work that our officials are elected to do. Each side talked endlessly about the need to work together and come to bipartisan compromises but neither side seemed willing to do the hard work of making that happen. While a democratically elected government is built upon the idea that no one person or party can and should do the work of governing alone, the ongoing stalemates in Washington and the party-line votes speak volumes about our inability to live up to that noble idea. In the ancient Sanhedrin, the high court of ancient Israel, the members of the court sat in a semicircle with the leader at the front of the room, not unlike our Senate or House of Representatives. The Sanhedrin was set up this way so that each person could see one another and so each judge was seen as an equal and vital member of the court. Symbolically, the semicircle also was meant to teach the judges that the truth did not lie with any one member but rather, somewhere in the middle.
In this week's parsha (Torah portion), Yitro, Moses' father-in-law after whom the parsha is named, famously convinces Moses that he can't do the job of judging and leading the people of Israel on his own. He must set up a system of government that can effectively address the needs of the people and offer fair and swift judgement and action on behalf of the people. It has always been astonishing to me that this parsha that contains the Ten Commandments would be named after Moses' father-in-law, a relatively minor character in the Torah. Why did he deserve the great honor of having this parsha named after him? Perhaps it was because of the vital lesson he taught Moses and all of us. You can't do this alone. You must work with others. You must share the burden. If only our representatives would heed this message and realize that while fidelity to party may be important, the work of governing requires that we work with others and recognize that the truth always lies somewhere in the middle.