Wednesday, June 14, 2017

And At Last It's The Real Thing Or Close Enough To Pretend (John Barlow & Bob Weir - "Saint of Circumstance")

As we have watched the James Comey, the former Director of the FBI, testify before a Senate hearing, and then watched Attorney General Jeff Sessions testify before the same Senate hearing, we have been hearing more and more about Fake News. Yes, Fake News, it is just another thing to make me roll my eyes and teach my children critical reading and reasoning skills to recognize fake news, ignore fake news and prevent it from skewing attitudes. Now I have to remind my children that it’s not enough to listen, they must always be mindful of the source, who broadcast it, where did they get the information? When their friends repeat something far-fetched or ridiculous because they heard it or their parents heard it on some right wing or left wing news show; my kids have to learn to ignore their friends.  My kids will now have learn how to determine if a story true or is a very small percentage of it true and the rest merely an extrapolation based upon assumption and conjecture? Whose bias is satisfied, whose agenda is expressed by such a story? Fake news only works if people listen to it and think of as news as opposed to the trash that it really is.
This Shabbat we read from Parsha Shlach Lecha. Parsha Shlach Lecha includes the troubling narrative of the 12 spies and the ensuing report of Eretz Canaan made to Moshe and B’nai Yisroel. Until this point, the plan was that B’nai Yisroel was to head towards Eretz Canaan. Certainly, God and even Moshe had grown steadily angry at B’nai Yisroel as their complaints from the previous parsha, B’haalotcha, began to sound like a lack of faith. Despite the complaints, God had not yet prohibited this generation from entering into the Land. However following the negative report from ten of the twelve spies, the people follow the majority opinion, and God and Moshe realize that this generation is not yet ready to enter the land. This was the reason why B’nai Yisroel would now have to wait nearly 4 decades prior to entering Eretz Canaan. Yet towards the end of the Parsha, Torah makes it very clear, that despite this generation’s lack of faith, returning to the land is inevitable and a covenant that will be fulfilled. KI Tavo’u El Eretz Moshvoteichem Asher Ani Notein LachemGod spoke to Moshe saying: Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: When you will come to the Land of your dwelling places that I give you…. (Num. 15:2). Even at that point while punishment was meted out, the punishment did not remove hope, it did not remove inevitability, nor did it mitigate the covenant that God had made with Avraham, Yitzchak Yaakov or Moshe Rabeinu at Sinai. Rather this punishment delayed the inevitable and waited for another generation that was worthy enough to inherit the covenant.
After the ten gave their report, Caleb one of the two with a positive report (Joshua being the other) simply stated his opinion. Caleb did not disagree with the majority report that it is a land flowing with Milk and Honey, and the cities are fortified etc. Rather Caleb first silenced the other spies: VayHas Caliev et Ha’Am El Moshe VayomerCaleb hushed the people toward Moshe and said Aloh Na’Aleh V’Yarashnu Otah Ki Yachol Nuchal LahWe shall surely ascend and conquer it, for we can surely do it (Num. 13:30). How did Caleb silence them? What does it mean that he silenced them towards Moshe? What possessed Caleb to be so optimistic and not the other ten spies? Beginning with Caleb’s faith in God while the others’ faith wavered; Caleb also had a deep respect for the current institutions of leadership and a profound faith in Moshe’s leadership. Rashi, the 11th century French vintner, Rabbi, and commentator, offers his insight:  His belief in the inevitable was a result of his experience at Sinai. The spies were already biased against Moses Lishmoah Ma ShYidabeir B’Moshe Tzavach v’Amar, V’chi Zo Vilvad Asa Lanu Ben Amram –To listen to what he (Caleb) would say against Moses, and Caleb cried out and said, Is it this alone that the son of Amram has done to us. HaShomeiyah Haya Savur Sh’ba L’Sapeir Bignuto The one who heard this was under the impression that Caleb was about to speak in disparagement of Moses. For Rashi, the issue is not the ten spies’ negative report per se. Rather it is the fact that people listened to it rather than dismissed it. The people wanted to believe the spies, they were ripe for a negative report because their faith was already wavering. The report merely justified their perception and lack of faith. For Rashi, the people the people already had were predisposed to the spies’ negative report. So the spies pandered to the people.

We all struggle with our faith.  And while we intellectually understand the importance of maintaining an optimistic attitude in life, sometimes we can only see hardship difficulty and impossibility. Because of our own bias, and perhaps our desire for simplicity and simple answers, we can easily become susceptible to fake news, to misinformation, to a bad report that, on the surface is completely logical. However upon further examination, upon further thought we might learn something else. Fake news, or a negative report such as what the ten spies offered, teaches us that, ultimately, the choice to listen and accept fake news or the spies’ negative report is up to the listener. If the listener’s faith in social institutions, authority, society, is already diminished then that listener is vulnerable and the prime target of and consumer of fake news. For Caleb, for Joshua and ultimately for the generation that was born in the wilderness, the Generation that didn’t know slavery, they were immune to this fake news.

Rav Yitz

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