Judaism: The Messenger and the Message
Rabbi Berel WeinRabbi Berel Wein is a noted scholar, historian, speaker and educator, admired the world over for his audio tapes/CDs, videos and books, particularly on Jewish history.
It is a well-known and almost instinctive response to attack the messenger when one feels that the message being delivered is incorrect, unwanted or unfair. The poor messenger usually finds one’s self in a hapless and hopeless predicament. It then becomes a contest of personalities and not of ideas, a shouting match instead of a reasoned debate.
A seasoned American political leader once sagely observed, “All politics are local.” Well in our current world, especially here in Israel, all politics and social issues are unfortunately very personal. And because of this most disturbing tendency to personalize everything, a healthy and constructive debate about the issue involved, about objective facts and possible solutions to difficult problems, never occurs.
Shooting the messenger and disregarding the message is the norm here but it is a dangerous and very self-defeating norm. For people are very impermanent in the political world – literally here today and gone tomorrow – while social and existential problems seldom are solved by themselves but always remain to be dealt with by succeeding generations and societies.
Attacking the messenger may prove to be psychologically satisfying but it does nothing to deal with the realities of the problem under discussion. In fact, dealing with the messenger is a tempting but an ultimately foolish procrastination from dealing with the message involved. One needs not like or admire the messenger in order to act sensibly regarding the message that was delivered. The messenger is completely peripheral to the veracity and acuteness of the message itself.
The current debate about hareidi society’s participation in the general obligations and tenor of Israeli life is a case in point. Most of the hareidi media and its political representatives and spokesmen have expended their efforts in personally attacking those individuals who have proposed legislative and social changes that will undoubtedly affect hareidi life here in Israel.
Politics in this country is a rough game and religious politics is an even rougher game. The hareidi defense to the message being sent to them – that the rest of Israeli society is unwilling to condone their lack of participation in the defense of the country and in their abstention from the workforce – is to accuse the bearers of this message as being “haters” and “blasphemers.”
Yair Lapid, Naftali Bennett, Dov Lipman may be the messengers and they bear the brunt of the personal attacks being leveled against them by the hareidi world’s spokesmen. But let us ignore who the messengers are and listen to the message. The current social and economic situation of the hareidi society in Israel is no longer tenable. There is a limit as to how many generations can consecutively be raised in poverty without there being a breakdown in that society.
I am quite certain that there are thousands in the hareidi world who secretly desire that this cycle of poverty, unemployment and dependency be broken. I personally know many hareidim who have expressed this to me. It is time to deal with the message and ignore the messengers completely and finally.
The current public controversies regarding the forthcoming election to choose the new Chief Rabbis of Israel also fall into this messenger-message category. Much of quite vitriolic and personal discussion in hareidi media, revolves about the persona of one of the announced candidates for the position of Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi. The discussion should center, in my opinion, about the institution of the Chief Rabbinate itself.
The message that is being delivered by the Israeli public is that the institution has degenerated into an anachronistic and almost irrelevant bureaucracy. To survive and perform the noble purposes that its founders had in mind ninety years ago, requires a change of mindset and a clear articulation of purpose and policy.
It requires an obvious redirection of strategies and tactics no matter who the new Chief Rabbis will be. Instead of besmirching candidates for the positions, those who are involved in its defense and seek its survival would be wise to clearly define the goals and limitations of the office and make the case for the necessity of its continuance and communal support.
Rabbi Yisrael Lipkin of Salant interpreted the verse in Psalms “that when others rise against me I should listen (and be forewarned),” meaning that “I should have the wisdom to listen and hear what they – my opponents - have to say, so that I can improve and create.”
But as long as we are more concerned with the messenger than we are with the message, with the person and not with the real issue, we have ignored Rabbi Lipkin’s wise teaching. History teaches is that the message must eventually be addressed no matter who the messenger may be.