We live in a world where “fake news” and “alternative facts” are ubiquitous. The surprising Presidential Election results, which saw the preparation of the coronation of Senator Hilary Clinton being replaced by the shocking reality that America was witnessing one of the biggest political upsets in history with the election of President Donald Trump, apparently gave the largely liberal leaning media license to fabricate news and replace facts with feelings.
This abrogation of journalist honesty is the antithesis of a Torah perspective, and the subtle and subliminal message being imparted by this laxity to relay the emes is insidious and far-reaching
In stark contrast to living in a world where the distinction between fact and fiction has become illusory, in this weeks’ parsha, parshas Matos, the Torah teaches us that “if a man makes a vow to G-d, or makes an oath to obligate himself, he must not break his word. He must do all that he expressed verbally” (Bamidbar 30:3).
One of my primary teachers, Rav Yaacov Weinberg zt”l, the former Rosh Yeshiva of Ner Yisrael, pointed out that the Torah is implying in this verse that there is something sacrosanct about that which proceeds from one’s mouth. Not fulfilling what one says is not just a question of breaking one’s word, but has a far more meaningful effect. The opposite of profane is holy. If one does not profane one’s words, then they are by default, holy.
Words have the potential to achieve a noble goal. They are the medium by which we connect our inside world with the outside world, and by which we absorb the outside world into our inside one. We have the potential to change when we use and listen to words.
The sad reality is that the disingenuous spin on current affairs or the outright made up lies created by the media in an attempt to discredit President Trump, has been shown to plant seeds of doubt in the mind’s eye of the electorate. From a Torah perspective, the results are deeper and have profound consequences. The dishonest journalists creating “fake news” have broken a vital link with the world around them. They have profaned the value of speech. Shakespeare proclaimed, “above all else, to thine own self be true.” The Torah perspective is rather different – i.e. – being true to oneself is only possible if to others you are true.
Chazal explain that it is important to teach one’s mouth to say “I do not know.” Just as saying “please” and “thank you” change a person and make them more grateful, similarly, “I do not know” creates an inner humility.
Insisting on the truth and correcting those who attempt to perpetuate false notions in a culture where apparently the goal is no longer about ensuring the objective truth at all costs, but rather simply not to be caught in a lie, takes courage and strength. It is thus comforting to learn that parshas Matos teaches us that G-d has given us the ability to live according to the laws of the Torah under all circumstances.
More specifically, the Torah uses two terms to refer to the tribes of Israel – shevatim and matos. The difference between these two words is that while shevatim refers to branches that still remain attached to their tree trunk, and are thus soft and flexible; matos are branches that have become detached from the tree, and have hardened to form a staff of a rod.
Like a branch that is detached from its trunk, each of our neshomas sent to disparate parts of the world during this final Galus, are no longer connected effortlessly to the Creator but rather finds itself in a world which is antagonistic to holiness and truth. It is an important and uplifting consolation to know that as the pernicious effects of the media having lost its compass of integrity becomes clearer, we are promised that, with the necessary effort, the tender “branch” will soon harden to become a firm and rigid “rod” that is unbending in its dedication to Hashem.
1 Antony (Chanan) Gordon is a Sir Abe Bailey Fellow, Fulbright Scholar and graduate of the Harvard Law School. Chanan has spent most of his career in the high end of the financial service industry.
Chanan has assumed several positions of national leadership in the Orthodox community including having been the Co-Chairman of the Agudath Israel Convention as well as the Chairman of the AJOP Convention. Chanan has become one of the most sought after speakers in the country at numerous seminars, retreats and conventions including the likes of Gateways, Aish Hatorah Partners Conference; Project Inspire, KMR etc.
Chanan can best be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.