This week’s Torah portion, Breishit, includes the story of the creation of the world. In it the phrase, “God said, ‘Let there be….’ and it was so!” is repeated throughout the passage. In the Torah, God speaks and the world comes into being. In the Torah words matter.
At the United Nations it is less clear.
Lots of significant sounding words were uttered this week and some significant words were agreed to among major world powers. The five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council have agreed on a resolution that will require Syria to give up its chemical weapons. On the face of it this is a very good thing. But, when one reads the fine print it is less clear. The resolution, “makes clear that there will be consequences for non-compliance,” Samantha Power, the new American Ambassador to the U.N. said. But, what those consequences would be is not so clear. If Syria does not comply with the resolution, the matter would have to go back to the Security Council, where Russia holds veto power, for further deliberations before the U.N. could support any not-yet-specified consequences.
Equally distressing, the resolution does not make clear who is to blame for the recent chemical weapons attack upon Syrian civilians. In this week’s Torah portion, when Adam eats the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, he tries to pass the blame off on Eve. She tries to pass the blame off on the serpent. God has none of it. It is clear that all are responsible and all are punished. In the U.N. resolution it is less than clear who is to blame for the chemical weapons attacks that murdered thousands - though it is clear to everyone and anyone who has actually looked at the facts that the Assad regime is to blame.
There were also many significant sounding words uttered at the U.N. this week by President Hassan Rouhani of Iran. But, what they mean is less than clear. I really do not want to be cynical about the new President of Iran. He may be sincere in his efforts to open the door to a rapprochement with the United States and the West. But, when he makes a statement that seems to say that the Holocaust actually happened and then the Fars news agency in Iran says that he didn’t actually use the word, “Holocaust,” and that CNN had fabricated that he had acknowledged the Holocaust, it all seems less clear. To be clear, it seems President Rouhani did, in fact, acknowledge that the Holocaust happened, but there are significant conservative forces in Iran, represented by the Fars news agency, who are not so happy about this and wanted his words to be less clear.
Moreover, on the question of Iran developing nuclear weapons, President Rouhani said directly that Iran would never give up its right to enrich uranium. At the same time he said he wants to swiftly resolve Iran’s nuclear standoff with the West. Is that clear? Let’s hope President Obama is better at divining these things than I am.
In the big picture I would rather have the less than clear words of President Rouhani than the clear words of the former President Ahmadinejad. I’d rather have less than clear U.N. security council resolution saying Syria should give up its chemical weapons than the complete silence that preceded it.
But, let us not fool ourselves into thinking that what we have heard at the U.N. are like the words of Torah from Mt. Sinai.
p.s. If you want to hear some meaningful words of dialogue I urge you to come this Sunday at 9:30 a.m. to the program with Rabbi Kronish and Kadi Zahalka. And don’t be afraid to ask questions if their statements are not clear to you!