The One Who Shouts First Loses
There is an old story of a Japanese village where the people never argue. An outsider is fascinated with this modern wonder and asks the villagers why they never find anything to argue about. “Oh, we argue,” was the reply, “but we have a rule that the person who raises his or her voice first, loses.”
Could somebody please codify that rule in the United States soon!
In the past couple of months I have seen a good Rabbi slandered on YouTube for having the UN ambassador speak at a community event in his congregation. Another local synagogue had to cancel a political education event because the other party wanted to immediately respond to the issues that were raised. Emails are flying fast and furious about whether politicians can speak in synagogues without the synagogues losing their status as non-profit organizations. All of this to silence Jewish leadership about taking a stand on issues that are important to our communities.
What bothers me is that what passes for political conversation today is all about yelling. One cannot take any position, right or left, without first passing some kind of “purity test” to make sure that they will speak the “truth” according to the extremist position. Forget about the end of the middle class family, we are seeing the end of the moderate thinker. Critical thinking is no longer needed. Nuanced positions are to be “swift boat-ed”. “Fair and balanced” has become a cynical motto and no longer a moral aspiration. Like the most fanatical religious observer, you are all in or you are sinner. “He rides an elevator on Shabbat; he can’t be trusted” “She reads banned books; so she is a heretic”.
In the Jewish community, if one says the words, “Two State Solution” you are anti-Zionist and if you say “Settlements are a problem” you are an anti-Semite. If you say, “There are some Israeli policies that I am not sure about” then you are the definition of a traitorous Jew.
In Parshat Bahaalotecha, just last Shabbat, we see the story of Moses who begs God to assign some elders to help Moses lead the people. Seventy Elders are chosen and they are given a vision of God and begin to speak prophetic words in the camp. When Joshua is concerned that this will devalue the leadership of Moses, the great prophet replies, “Would that all of the Lord’s people were prophets” (Numbers 11:29).
Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, Dean of the Ziegler Rabbinical School at The American Jewish University in Los Angeles has written; “Through the authorization of seventy sages, God establishes diversity as a Jewish virtue. By providing the leadership, the prototype of the Second Temple, and the rabbinic Sanhedrin with dissenting opinions, God assures that every possible view will be articulated and considered. Diversity, then, is not a threat. Instead, the Torah presents diverse viewpoints as a source of richness, stability and vitality for Judaism; indeed the Rambam suggests that this pluralism of viewpoint is at the very center of Jewish law, from the time of Moses to our own day” (The Bedside Torah, p. 236).
Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion. What is not allowed is drowning out all the dissenting opinions. Diversity is a God given mandate. Pluralistic thoughts are the way to make better decisions. Those who claim that there is only one way, one solution, one course of action are not only wrong, they are lying to us. There is always another way, maybe it is better, maybe not, but we will never know if those who espouse it are shouted down, drowned out and refused a platform to speak.
And if we don’t speak up, we will get the discussion we deserve, which is no discussion at all. Rather than accept the fact that distorted ideas and defamatory remarks are what will go “viral” in our hypersensitive age, we need to stand up for diversity, pluralism and common sense. Such a stand will not be easy or pleasant. But it is the right stand in the end.
Rudyard Kipling wrote in his poem “If”: “If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken, twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, and stoop to build them up with worn out tools. … If you can fill the unforgiving minute, with sixty seconds worth of distance run, Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, and, which is more, you will be a man my son.”
I read it as “you will be a MENTCH”.
What kind of a world is it that vilifies a kind, caring and considerate human being? Not a Jewish world; we believe in diversity. Not an American world, because we believe that everyone has the right to speak freely. I vote for pluralism and diversity. Where will your vote go?