February 24, 2024
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February 24, 2024
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Ya’akov spends 20 years in the house of lies and deceit. From the outset, he faced constant scheming and chicanery. Though slated to marry Rachel, he woke up the next morning married to a different woman. Confronting his father-in-law about this fraud, he receives a lame answer surrounding local customs of not marrying off younger sisters before their older siblings. Of course, no one ever mentioned the universal norm about being honest, and not lying to your future family. I guess Lavan forgot that one.

The longer Ya’akov remains in Lavan’s snare the more exploitation and dishonesty he encounters, as his salary is repeatedly and unilaterally reduced. At one point, Ya’akov generously agrees to relinquish all rights to healthy sheep, while committing himself to herding only sickly and damaged animals. Of course, this plan doesn’t “work,” as Ya’akov, with Hashem’s help, continues to prosper. Unable to handle Ya’akov’s financial success, Lavan disseminates false rumors about Ya’akov’s unethical business practices.

Though Ya’akov and his family ultimately flee this house of horrors, they are hunted down by Lavan, and, astonishingly, are accused of treason. Having been victimized for over 20 years by unremitting manipulation and cheating, Ya’akov is now accused of those very same crimes. Pulling on everyone’s heartstrings, Lavan wails that he wasn’t even given the opportunity to wish goodbye to his daughters. Ironically, by doing his utmost to avoid confrontation and conflict, Ya’akov has committed a humanitarian crime.

Thousands of years later, Ya’akov’s children find themselves in a similar predicament. A coalition of Israel bashers including antisemites, ignorant stooges, shockingly gullible students, and stubborn but blind denialists, have all teamed up to accuse our people of fictitious crimes, all the while tacitly supporting rape, torture, burning human beings and taking babies and octogenarians as hostage. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

You would think that, especially in this instance, moral truth is straightforward. It was pretty clear-cut on Sept 11, and Oct 7 should not be any different. Just in the past decade the entire civilized world firmly supported the cleansing of ISIS, but, astonishingly, Gaza is different.

The moral calculus is clear: We are a nation of peace and Arab countries which have normalized relations with us have enjoyed shared prosperity. By contrast, the genocidal murderers who continue to seek our extinction always look to justify their violence with false narratives about colonialism and with hypocritical accusations of immorality. We are literally walking in the footsteps of Ya’akov.

 

Defending Integrity

At some point, Ya’akov had enough. After 20 years of lies and counterfeit claims, he finally defends himself and his record. He calmly accounts for his 20 years of faithful service, through freezing cold nights and scorching hot summer days. You would imagine that Lavan, when confronted with his own corruption and duplicity, would finally acknowledge Ya’akov’s virtue. The facts speak for themselves.

However, hate and contempt leave little room for facts and, for those consumed with rage and violence, nothing is obvious. Unable to communicate with one another, the best Ya’akov and Lavan can muster is to agree to disagree. Reluctantly, they sign a treaty of non-aggression and agree to part ways.

Exasperated, Ya’akov walks away, failing to convince anyone, but confident in his own moral integrity. Like our grandfather, we too, are unlikely to convince much of this world of our morality in waging a just war. There is too much noise, hate and ignorance for the truth to shine.

Yet, despite the futility of these efforts, we must continue to try, for the sake of the few who may listen. But, even if no one listens, we must still affirm morality and truth for ourselves, so that we can maintain our own moral compass even though so many around us have lost theirs. When truth slowly dies, we must hold on to it even more tightly.

 

The Battle for Truth

This war has many layers. Obviously, this is a continuation of the War of Independence as we continue our struggle to return and resettle our ancient homeland. The world isn’t yet ready to grant us this small parcel of land awarded to us by Hashem. One day they will, but it may take a while.

The second layer to this war is the battle between good and evil. A struggle is being waged between an axis of bloodthirsty barbarians who care little about life and human dignity and civilized societies who cherish life and condemn unnecessary violence. This is a clash of civilizations and we, as always, are at the forefront. Good will always prevail over evil, provided that courageous people stand up and make a difference. Hashem gives us courage and gives us strength.

As the war unfolds, a third layer is becoming apparent. We are waging a battle to preserve the concept of truth. The world around us has gone mad, losing its ability to identify truth. Facts are recklessly tossed around, and preposterous claims are weaponized to attack and discredit our people.

 

Post- Modernism

The popular movement known as post -modernism asserts that all truth is subjective, and context dependent, and therefore there is no objective right and wrong. This has generated the concept of moral relativism and the belief that we must always study a diversity of opinions while appreciating multiple competing narratives. Under the terms of moral relativism, there are no absolute moral positions, and any set of moral codes is merely a cultural convention.

The absence of objective standards is eroding moral clarity and leading to the moral free-for-all we are all suffering through. It is a disgrace to share a planet with human beings, presumably equipped with brains and hearts, who can actually celebrate incinerating other human beings. These people are the hideous monsters of post-modernism.

 

Tower of Bavel and the Mabul

Tragically, when we abandon absolute moral truths, we also lose dialogue. If we can’t agree on universal moral values, our conversation degenerates into shouting matches in which we lodge opposing cultural narratives at each other. Social media exacerbates the racket by providing mock communication, but no real dialogue. Social media platforms merely goad opinionated people into hollering their opinions, as they spar with one another in the cybersphere. The Tower of Bavel has returned and this time, though we share language we do not possess a common baseline of values. If we can’t speak with one another, we can’t live side-by-side.

Moral relativism also diminishes moral accountability. Absolute moral values provide us with a conscience through which we inspect our behavior. Once every heinous act can be contextualized and justified, all moral accountability vanishes. The next step after the loss of moral accountability is a moral indifference in which people do not feel the responsibility of ethical decision-making, and do not consider the impact of their actions on others. Moral relativism is destroying communication and extinguishing moral sensibility.

Without communication, we inhabit the tower of Babel. Without moral sensibility, we are the generation of the mabul.

Finally, when we lose sight of truth in the public arena it becomes more difficult to locate inner truth. Once truth disappears from the broader world it also fades from human hearts and souls. So many in our generation suffer from impostor syndrome in which they doubt their accomplishments and their talents. In the modern swirl of dishonesty, fake news and untruth is it any surprise that people feel like they themselves are frauds?

Our opponents are attacking the concept of truth. Hold fast and hold tight to truth. We know what truth is and that is enough.


The writer is a rabbi at Yeshivat Har Etzion/Gush, a hesder yeshiva. He has smicha and a BA in computer science from Yeshiva University as well as a masters degree in English literature from the City University of New York.

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