Last week, as Rabbis around the world were preparing to lecture through the night of Shavuot, Senator Rand Paul was filibustering in the Senate.  He spoke for over 10 hours without sitting down, or leaving the floor for any reason, only pausing to take questions from other Senators. 
His filibuster was a way to draw attention to the issue of the Patriot Act which is up for renewal this week.

The Patriot Act gives allows the government to collect personal information form American citizens for surveillance purposes. 
Rand Paul believes that the provisions of the Patriot Act invade the privacy of millions of Americans and is a violation of the 4th Amendment.
His opponents, many of which are in his own party, believe that Senator Paul is wrong.  They also insist that the Patriot Act has been instrumental in preventing terrorist attacks saving countless American lives, and that the renewal of the Patriot Act is necessary for the security of America.

In the debate over the Patriot Act it is hard to know who is right, Senator Paul, or his detractors. 

But one thing is clear:

Senator Rand Paul should be commended for bringing this important issue to the attention of the American people. 

Any time we submit to government we relinquish some of our freedom.  We are willing to trade our freedom because we receive something in return; security, stability, infrastructure, etc.

This calculus goes back to a time long before the founding fathers of America.  When the Jewish people first entered the land of Israel there was no centralized government in Israel.  People did what was right in their own eyes, governing themselves by their conscience to follow the laws of the Torah of Moses, and they followed the guidance of their local and national profits and judges who had influence but no government authority.  This was known as the era of the Shoftim – judges, and was chronicled in the Biblical book  of the same name. 

After over three and a half centuries of this type of government the people approached the profit Samuel and requested that he appoint a king over them.  The Torah includes a provision for a king, nevertheless, Samuel rebuked the people.  He told them that the appointment of the king would deprive them of personal freedoms.  He would conscript their sons and daughters into national service, he would tax them and confiscate their property. 

The people replied that they understood the costs, but they were willing to pay it.  They were constantly being harassed by neighboring tribes and nations, they sought stability, and under the status quo they were susceptible to corruption and violence without any recourse. 

A king may deprive them of some liberties, but it was the price that needed to be paid for stability and security.  And so a monarchy was established. 

Over the centuries that followed there were some good kings.  The first king, Saul, delivered the people from the oppression of the neighboring Ammonites.  King David who followed achieved peace through strength.  Under David’s son Shlomo Israel’s economy and culture flourished.

But there were also evil kings.  Most notably king Ahab.  His reign was known for corruption, confiscation of property, and murder.  He tracked down and murdered the prophets of Israel and attempted to forcibly impose a new religion on the people of Israel with state sponsored prophets of Baal. 

During Achav’s time Israel enjoyed security and at times prosperity.  But the cost for those benefits proved too high for Israel.

This week’s parshah, Nasso, discusses the same principle, but on a personal level. 

We read about the woman referred to by the Torah as a Sotah.  The case is where a wife develops a relationship with a man other than her husband that has not crossed the line into adultery.  The relationship, nevertheless, has become a source of tension between the married couple. 

The Sotah provision requires that the man formerly warn his wife in front of witnesses that she is forbidden form secluding herself in a  private room with the other man.  If, at some time after the formal warning, witnesses testify that the wife violated the husbands request, the husband can take his wife to a special court in Jerusalem where the priests would conduct a special test that would miraculously determine whether or not she had been unfaithful to her husband.  I encourage everyone t read the passage inside for themselves.

Skeptics of the Torah have erroneously characterized the Sotah procedure as some sort of which trial that oppressed women. But the Mishnah clearly states that the woman was not compelled to take the test, nor was the husband compelled to insist that she take it. 

After the seclusion incident the husband could choose to divorce his wife.  Alternatively, if the husband insisted that she take the Sotah challenge, the woman could demand a divorce from the husband without confessing any guilt, and avoid the test. 

The Sotah procedure was specifically for those couples who wanted to stay together.  The problem is the seclusion incident presents an almost insurmountable hurdle to overcome in repairing their relationship. 

The Sotah procedure involves the reading of the name of God, something that is prohibited in any other situation.  The Sotah also invokes God himself and requests for him to perform an open miracle.  Something unique of all mitzvoth of the Torah. 

These drastic measures are taken to demonstrate how difficult it is to repair a marriage where trust has been damaged.  The Sotah procedure shows the lengths we are required to go to try and repair a marriage before we end one. 

How did they get into this predicament in the first place? 

Just as nations face a tension between liberty and security, that tension exists on a personal level as well. 

In a marriage each partner may insist on having aspects of their life that are private or hidden from the other.  Sotah reminds us that privacy comes at the cost of security in the marriage.  And just as with nations, a balance must be achieved where we do not veer too far in either direction.

This applies to raising children as well.  As children get older they require more freedom and privacy.  But as every parent knows, there is a great struggle as to how much freedom and privacy a child can be given without risking the child’s security.

Today technology has given the government ways to access private information in ways that could not be imagined even twenty years ago. 

Similarly, in our personal lives technology also affords us greater access to privacy from spouses and parents if we want it.  There was a time not long ago that if someone wanted to have a private life they needed to leave the house.  Today all someone needs is a smart phone and they can have a separate life that even their closest acquaintances are completely oblivious to. 

The scale that balances privacy and freedom in one hand and security and stability to the other is delicate and must be guarded vigilantly. 

The Senator from Kentucky spoke about it for only ten hours, but it should be on our minds and in our conversations as much as possible.  As technology moves forward it will continue to present us with new challenges and we must be constantly discussing how we can best meet those challenges so as not to veer to far in either direction.

I once heard a commentary on a line from davening that we say over a dozen times every day. 

Oseh Shalom Bimromav, hu ya’aseh shalom aleinu.

He who makes peace on high, may he make make peace upon us.

When referring to God, what does it mean when we say that he makes peace on high?

The heavens contain mostly fire and water.  Somehow God is able to harmonize these two competing elements.  If he can do that, then he can make peace between men on earth.

We are charged to imitate God.  That means that we two are required to harmonize tensions between competing ideas. 

With God’s help and with lots of discussion may we figure out how to harmonize between these ideas, and may God remove terrorism and terrorists from the world so that won’t have to concentrate so much on security, and instead can enjoy complete freedom. 

And let us say Amen.