Dvar on Va’etchanan – Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11
Rabbi Em Mueller, Sim Shalom Online Synagogue
August 16, 2016
This week’s Torah portion once again gives us the 10 commandments, beginning with “You shall have no other gods beside Me!” Rabbi Reuven Firestone writes that this injunction to be monotheistic occurs at a time and place where peoples were honoring many gods. He points out, for example, that the people of Shechem prayed to a god called El Berit, or “God of the Covenant” (Judges 9:46) Rabbi Firestone says that polytheism, as portrayed in the Tanach, is wicked and false. “In other words, before monotheism, religion was broad-minded and flexible regarding the notion of truth. After monotheism, religion had the tendency to be intolerant, even chauvinistic about [truth].
He concludes that “Jewish tradition grapples with this problem by declaring that we will not figure it out.” Nor, as he says, are we expected to.
As I was reading this I could not help but think of this presidential election season, where truth seems to be an enigma! There are places one can go to where facts are checked, but where is the outrage at blatant lies? Is the media falling down in its responsibility? Are WE falling down in our responsibility?
Listening to an NPR program that was questioning facts and truth, I heard one caller talk about unemployment, which in fact and in truth is very low! The caller said it didn’t “feel” that way to him; and if he lives in a place with high unemployment, he might be right. But to go by “feelings” and not facts shirks our responsibility.
As Rabbi Firestone points out, we are not expected to find the answers “to the riddle of Truth”, but we are expected to “grapple with the questions.” In other words, don’t take someone’s words for the truth; search for the truth. There is the truth of our feelings, but they do not stand in for the truth of the facts.
May this week bring us some interesting grappling!