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    How to be a diplomat – Chukkat

    This week’s sidra is part of the history of diplomacy.

    On the way through the wilderness from Egypt to the Promised Land, we see Israel encountering two regimes, Edom and Emor.

    Interestingly, the approach to the two rulers is quite different.

    Dealing with the king of Edom, Moses says, “This is a message from your brother Israel. You know all the troubles that have happened to us” (Num. 20:14).

    What’s this “your brother Israel”? On a superficial level it means, “You are a nation and we are a nation. We are international brothers. This is a message from one brother to another.”

    The sages tell us something extra, that Edom is descended from Esau, the brother of the patriarch Jacob known as Israel. The message is then, “We belong to the same family, but we’ve had a hard time of it. Please feel for your brother nation, for your brother’s nation”.

    To the king of the Amorites the Moses message is much bolder and braver: We’re no victim nation; we are proud and powerful, and we want respect from you, just as we give you respect.

    The point is not whether one approach is better, or the other. The point is that diplomacy depends on the assessment of the situation, on a reading of the circumstances. As Kohelet says, there is a time (and place) for everything.

    Diplomacy is the art of statesmanship. Kierkegaard said, “If you want to help a man, you must find him where he is”.

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