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06/19/2020 12:34:22 PM


Rabbi Weinberg

In a shocking editorial in the New York Times this week, Brett Stephens, a staunch defender of Israel and a writer with tremendous courage and stature wrote the following, “There is a ferocious intellectual intolerance sweeping the country and much of the journalistic establishment with it. Contrary opinions aren’t just wrong but unworthy of discussion. The range of political views deemed morally unfit for publication seems to grow ever wider. Arthur Miller once said a good newspaper is “a nation talking to itself.” What kind of paper will The Times be if half the nation doesn’t get to be even an occasional part of that conversation?”


Stephens wrote this scathing critique of his own newspaper, The New York Times after it chose to publish an op-ed by Senator Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas. Cotton wrote his editorial, promoting the use of the military to quell the chaos that ransacked cities across our country- a position challenged by many and certainly contrary to much of the editorial staff at the New York Times. Subsequent to its decision to publish the story, the editorial staff at The Times rebelled. In the aftermath, James Bennet, the editor of the editorial page was compelled to resign….Such is the story of journalism in our country today.


Brett Stephens was a regular writer for the Wall Street Journal until a few years ago. His sharp mind and ability to express himself with such clarity have made his columns a must read for many.


Indeed, he asks, what does it mean if one of the finest newspapers in our country chooses not to print an editorial because it is contrary to views held by most of its readers and many of its writers? What has happened to the basis of journalism and its responsibility to present both sides of a story without bias?


This week’s sedra, B’haalot’cha sheds some light on this subject that continues to gnaw at the very fiber that defines our extraordinary country. Today we read the third Torah portion in the book of Numbers- B’midbar. It depicts the beginning of the Israelites’ journey from Mt. Sinai to the land of Israel, a short trip that, in fact took 38 years.


Shortly after they had embarked the Israelites began to quarrel. They complained to Moshe, “Let us return to Egypt where the food was tasty. It was plentiful and dependable. Where are we going to find something to drink out here in the wilderness of Sinai?” In other words, the Israelites were saying to Moshe Rabbeinu, “we are willing to give up our freedom knowing we will have food on our table in the morning.”


Moshe, exasperated by his peoples’ impatience- who had just experienced the presence of God while encamped at Mt. Sinai- pleads to God for assistance. And, the Kadosh Baruch Hu answers. He chooses to imbue 70 of the elders in the Israelite community with His gift, the gift of prophecy. Moshe has help- he will be able to share the responsibility of leadership.


Yet, Joshua, Moshe’s right-hand man interjects, “My Lord, Moshe, restrain them! These 70 will challenge your authority.” But, Moshe the wise student of his people responds passionately. He says, in one of the most important phrases in the Torah, “Ha’mikaneh attah li? Are you jealous for my sake? I only wish that all of God’s people would have the gift of prophecy! Let God grant His spirit to them all!”


In other words, Moshe says to Joshua, “I welcome the voices of my people. Let them challenge me. Let them feel empowered. We need everyone’s presence. We need to listen to our people.”


Indeed, we need to listen to each other, today perhaps more so than ever before in the history of our great country. The chasm seems to get wider every day. We line up on our two sides of the issues and refuse to communicate, listen, consider, or understand another’s position. We surround ourselves with like-minded people- we shall not be influenced by those who might challenge our view of the world.


It is no better in our Jewish world as we take our positions and refuse to consider an opposing point of view. We are the inheritors of a tradition that cherished debate, respected the spoken word, accorded so much esteem to those who engaged in fierce battles of words. Today, the New York Times as well as most every form of media, struggles with its identity. What will my supporters think if I present a contrary position? Perhaps I have lost my nerve. Perhaps I have weakened my position because I am willing to entertain another’s point of view.


This morning’s sedra began with the words, “b’haalot’cha et hanerot- when you go up to light the lamps of the menorah….” Each of us has the ability to bring light to a world of so much darkness, where there is so much willingness to remain undeterred, untouched, and unconvinced. May each of us in our own way, shine light on one another, ennobling ourselves as we strive to introduce understanding to a world that prefers to look the other way. May each of us recognize our capacity to touch another soul, striving to open eyes to possibilities, overcoming boundaries, and reminding ourselves that good journalism makes us all better citizens.


Shabbat Shalom



Thu, April 15 2021 3 Iyyar 5781