By Rabbi Josh Weinberg June 11, 2021 – א’ תמוז תשפ”א
“וַיִּֽקָּהֲל֞וּ עַל־מֹשֶׁ֣ה וְעַֽל־אַהֲרֹ֗ן וַיֹּאמְר֣וּ אֲלֵהֶם֮ רַב־לָכֶם֒ כִּ֤י כׇל־הָֽעֵדָה֙ כֻּלָּ֣ם קְדֹשִׁ֔ים וּבְתוֹכָ֖ם יְהֹוָ֑ה וּמַדּ֥וּעַ תִּֽתְנַשְּׂא֖וּ עַל־קְהַ֥ל יְהֹוָֽה׃”
“They combined against Moses and Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! For all the community are holy, all of them, and Adonai is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourselves above God’s congregation?” (Numbers 16:3)
As Israel’s new government gets set to be voted on and sworn in on Sunday, there is excitement in the air. It is a true national unity government spanning the political and ideological spectrum including 3 right-wing parties, two centrist parties, two left-wing and one Arab party. As significant as who is in this narrow coalition is also who’s out. The Likud, Israel’s largest party in the Knesset with 30 seats, will find its fate in the parliament’s opposition – for the first time in decades – and both the Haredi parties as well as the extremist Religious Zionist parties will find themselves defanged and disempowered. That doesn’t mean that those party leaders won’t try to do everything in their power to prevent their political exile from power from happening. In fact, PM Netanyahu invoked this week’s Torah portion to make a clear comparison between Moses and himself. As we read this week, Korach from the Tribe of Levi, led an uprising against Moses with 250 people, and as punishment for the revolt, it is written: “And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the people who belonged to Korach and all their goods.” (Numbers 16:32)
Netanyahu argued that the Almighty God is on his side as opposed to the side of Israel’s new leadership: “There is no greater leader than Moses. Consider how God deals with the opposition among the people. You see what God did to Moses’ opponents.”
That said, why was Moses so afraid of or concerned about Korach? Why did the leader of B’nai Yisrael feel the need to squash dissent to his leadership? Was he afraid that Korach would instill doubt in the people behind his own leadership, or did he believe that Korach was only seeking leadership for his own self-aggrandizement, making Moses seem to be an illegitimate leader in the eyes of the people?
We are faced with challenges and opposition all the time. Sometimes they strengthen us, but often seemingly principled ideological opposition can feel threatening to us. Why are so many of us afraid of opposing viewpoints?
Are you afraid that if you acknowledge the legitimacy of the opinion of someone else that somehow your view will be less valid, or hold less water? Are you worried that somehow allowing light to flow through a crack in your argument that the floor will fall out from under you, and you will collapse like a House of Cards?
Let’s say you are one for whom ‘Standing with Israel’ is among your highest values. Let’s say you shudder at criticism of Israel and read such criticism to be a threat to the legitimacy of the one and only Jewish nation-state. You see the barrage of rockets attacking cities and towns in Israel and you shudder at the international response calling davka for Israel to show restraint! You see a growing hostility to Israel among the left-leaning international community and feel like it is becoming a pariah state around the world.
What would happen if you were to express compassion and sorrow for Palestinian lives that were lost in the latest war? What would happen if you were to listen to those who are angry with Israel for its behavior? Angry at the government’s policy who allows Jews to re-take property owned by Jews previously, but does not allow Palestinians to reclaim property previously owned by Palestinians? Would it be so threatening to your worldview and your love of Israel to acknowledge that Israel has caused suffering to Palestinians? If so, why?
How do you feel about the Jewish Israeli grandmother on a kibbutz near the Gaza border whose grandchildren were sleeping in bomb shelters for days, but whose tears were shed for kids in Gaza who were now left homeless? Is she not a Zionist? Is her sympathy threatening to Israel’s security?
Now let’s say that you are one whose criticism of Israel is growing and growing. You see Israel’s attacks (whether or not you’re willing to believe that they’re retaliatory) as the main source of the problem as they result in innocent children being killed. You cannot speak about Jewish lives coming under attack or increased antisemitic attacks without also speaking up about Islamophobia. However, when you protest violence and intimidation directed at your Muslim American neighbors you would unlikely say something like: “I just can’t support Muslims right now because Saudi Arabia’s been bombing kids in Yemen with American weapons.” Or the call-out of despotic regimes in Ankara, Tehran, Damascus, and Baghdad who shed crocodile tears for Palestine while entrenching their decades-long destruction of Kurdish rights, culture, and identity.
Would it be so threatening to your worldview to express support and solidarity – without ‘what-abouts’ or caveats – with other Jews who are under attack and being threatened?
The Rambam lists among those who have no share in the World to Come someone who “imposes a rule of fear on the community, not for the sake of Heaven.” Can one interpret this to mean that there should be no opposition to views and no challenge of rulers? The Talmud famously cites the example of Korach and his clan as an example of a dispute that is “not for the sake of Heaven.”
The Talmud also teaches the importance of considering opposing viewpoints:
“Since both these and those are the words of the living God, why were Beit Hillel privileged to have the halakha established in accordance with their opinion? The reason is that they were agreeable and forbearing, showing restraint when affronted, and when they taught the halakha they would teach both their own statements and the statements of Beit Shammai. Moreover, when they formulated their teachings and cited a dispute, they prioritized the statements of Beit Shammai to their own statements, in deference to Beit Shammai.” (BT Eruvin 13b)
The fascinating and significant point here is not that “these and those are the words of the living God,” but that Beit Hillel prioritized the statements of its ideological opponent to its own. Beit Hillel allowed for the community to hear and to listen, to dissent and to oppose before hearing its opinion, and thus Beit Hillel was privileged and the halakhah went according to its viewpoint.
We have a problem today in that we feel threatened by opposing views, and often we shudder at their being brought up and given legitimacy. As Professor Shaul Magid wrote in Tablet Magazine:
“How I feel, how I don’t feel, how I want to feel, and how I want you to feel—sometimes I think American Jewish conversations on Israel/Palestine are just one big therapy session or Pro-Israel Anonymous meeting. We share our feelings about how complicated things are, and if you dare question the legitimacy of my feelings, you cross a line, you are insensitive, or you lack “ahavat Yisrael,” love of Israel—or, literally, love of the Jews, but a love of the Jews and love of the Jewish state seem to have fused. We confuse feelings for policy and policy for feelings. The lines between nonfictional stories about people’s complicated feelings toward ’occupation’ become policy blueprints; writers become politicians and politicians become novelists. All of it seems to eventually get boiled down to the question: ’But do you love Israel and the Jewish people?’ And by ’love Israel’ it is meant ’love Israel the way I love Israel.’”
We can love Israel in different ways. We can be staunch supporters and loving critics at the same time. In fact, many of us in the Diaspora would do well to look at the example of Israel’s government. Members of the Knesset disagree on many substantial issues, but they are able to come together (after lengthy negotiations) for a higher purpose. Let’s just hope it lasts.