June 11, 2024
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False Forwards: Bava Metzia Daf 109

Rabbi Avraham Y. Kook was the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi in the decade just prior to the establishment of the modern state of Israel. During WWI, he found himself stuck in England, unable to return to Israel. He temporarily served as the rabbi of the Spitalfields Great Synagogue in London and once famously commented:

When I lived in London, I used to visit the National Gallery, and my favorite pictures were those of Rembrandt. I really think that Rembrandt was a Tzadik. Do you know that when I first saw Rembrandt’s works they reminded me of the legend about the creation of light? We are told that when God created light, it was so strong and pellucid, that one could see from one end of the world to the other, but God was afraid that the wicked might abuse it. What did He do? He reserved that light for the righteous [tzadikim] when the Messiah should come. But now and then there are great men who are blessed and privileged to see it. I think that Rembrandt was one of them, and the light in his pictures is the very light that was originally created by God Almighty.

***

Today’s daf discusses certain professionals who are expected to perform their services impeccably. Failing to do so may result in immediate dismissal, without a warning, because exceptional performance is integral to the execution of their duties.

רוּנְיָא שַׁתָּלָא דְרָבִינָא הֲוָה אַפְסֵיד סַלְּקֵיהּ אֲתָא לְקַמֵּיהּ דְּרָבָא אֲמַר לֵיהּ חֲזִי מָר מַאי קָא עָבֵיד לִי אֲמַר לֵיהּ שַׁפִּיר עֲבַיד אֲמַר לֵיהּ הָא לֹא הִתְרָה בִּי אֲמַר לֵיהּ לָא (צְרִיכָא לְהַתְרוֹת) [צְרִיכַתְּ לְאַתְרוֹיֵי] רָבָא לְטַעְמֵיהּ דְּאָמַר רָבָא מַקְרֵי דַרְדְּקֵי שַׁתָּלָא וְאוּמָּנָא וְסָפַר מָתָא כּוּלָּן כְּמוּתְרִין וְעוֹמְדִין דָּמֵי כְּלָלָא דְּמִילְּתָא כֹּל פְּסֵידָא דְּלָא הָדַר כְּמוּתְרִין וְעוֹמְדִין דָּמֵי
רש”י
מקרי דרדקי—פסידא דלא הדר הוא דשבשתא כיון דעל על

Ronnie was Ravina’s farmer. He caused him a loss, and Ravina removed him from his field. Ronnie appeared before Rava and said to him, “Sir, see what Ravina has done to me!” Rava replied, “He acted appropriately.” “But he did not give me a warning!” said Ronnie. “It is not necessary to provide a warning,” Rava replied. Rava maintains his position, for Rava taught: A teacher of children, a farmer, a shochet, a mohel and a sofer are all considered forewarned. Here is the governing principle: All irreversible loss is deemed forewarned.

Rashi: A teacher of children causes irreversible damage because once inaccurate knowledge enters his mind it remains there forever.

***

Why are children so impressionable? Because they are learning this new information for the very first time. Therefore, they assume it to be true. If you later try to amend that first impression, it’s nearly impossible. Because it means erasing from their minds what has become etched upon it as the truth. That is why it is so egregious and unforgivable when a teacher provides inaccurate information.

Thank God, today we live in the information age. All the knowledge of the universe is practically at our fingertips. However, we also live in the disinformation age. And there’s no shortage of wrongheaded folks out there who will not hesitate to propagate information that they know to be patently false, or at least, of which they are unsure.

Unfortunately, it’s just like the classic parable of the bag of feathers that have blown into the wind symbolizing the way lashon hara can never be retrieved. Much the same way, once disinformation has gone viral, it’s impossible to change people’s minds. Even once the inaccuracies are amended, chances are the original recipients will never encounter the corrected information. And even if they do, they will rarely change their minds because the wrong information has become so deeply ingrained in their psyche.

This tragic phenomenon is not new. It has existed throughout history. For example, the story of Rav Kook and Rembrandt may be found in several places including respectable books by prominent rabbinic authors. Nevertheless, that doesn’t necessarily make it factual. The story first appears in a newspaper article written by a sculptor who met Rav Kook and heard the story from him.

While not wishing to cast any aspersions on any individual, such weak, dubious origins leave one scratching his head regarding the veracity of the episode. Let’s try to be as objective as possible: Even if the sculptor did hear the story from Rav Kook, we really have no idea about the context of the conversation between them. The story is recounted basically in a vacuum. Was Rav Kook simply sharing a dvar Torah with the man? Was he making small talk to draw the man closer to Yiddishkeit and demonstrate the eternality and immanence of Hashem’s light throughout this incredible creation called planet Earth? We will never know.

But what is clear is that the famous story has taken on a life of its own. So much so that now people present Rav Kook as the source of the permissibility to admire all manner of artwork, as the source of engaging with all aspects of the Hellenistic culture around us. And that’s rather a stretch. One tiny story lacking context that may or may not have taken place can hardly be a source for a whole new philosophy on life and ideology of Judaism.

But that’s how misinformation works. You read something. Someone forwards you something. And with little to no fact-checking you simply forward the information on to the next group of unsuspecting “spiritual children.” And then, even if you or they ever were to find out that the information was exaggerated or patently false it would have little bearing on your ultimate attitude towards that topic. Because it’s already become etched upon your fragile mind.

Fact-check before you forward anything. We are extremely blessed to be living in an age when the prophecy, “For the world will be filled with the knowledge of God like the ocean is filled with water,” is being fulfilled before our very eyes. Nevertheless, “God created good and bad in equilibrium,” and as much as we are blessed to have so much information at our fingertips, Satan makes sure that we have an equal amount of misinformation at our fingertips. May you forever filter what you read and never be the source of inaccuracies in your mind or in the minds of anyone who may be impacted by that forward button you’re tempted to press unthinkingly!


Rabbi Dr. Daniel Friedman is the author of The Transformative Daf book series. He teaches at Touro University’s Lander Colleges and his Center for Torah Values combats Christian anti-Zionism.

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