Photo Credit: Rabbi YY Rubinstein
Rabbi YY Rubinstein

Here is an interesting Jewish thought:

The Torah at the end of Parshas Noach records that Terach was seventy years of age when his son Avraham was born. The family then sets off to settle in Canaan (Israel) but doesn’t quite manage to get there (this happens to lots of us.) They settle instead in a place called Charan and there, at the ripe old age of 205, Terach dies.

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The next parshah, Lech Lecha, says that Avraham is told by Hashem to set off to complete the journey and at the age of 75 he arrives in Israel.

The interesting thing is that the Torah tells us Terach died before Avraham set off to the land of Israel. This is clearly not the case.

Do the math: If Terach was 70 when Avraham was born and Avraham was 75 when he set out, then Terach was 145 when he and Avraham parted and he lived another sixty years.

Why does the Torah imply that Avraham only left after his father died?

Rashi supplies two answers. The first is that from a Jewish philosophical perspective, a wicked person, although alive, is considered dead – and Terach was a particularly wicked person.

His second answer is little short of baffling: In order to prevent critics and cynics from claiming that Avraham abandoned his poor old father for sixty years, the Torah draws a veil over the truth and related the story as though Avraham had only left after his father’s funeral.

But any child can add 70 and 75 and subtract that from the 205 years the Torah tells us Terach lived. The Torah’s own words clearly reveal what actually happened.

Reb Simcha Zissel Ziv, founder of the Yeshiva of Kelm, says an uncomfortable and explosive thing about this paradox. It’s true that the evidence about what really occurred is staring us in the face. What Rashi is telling us, he says, is that if you want to draw a veil over the truth and cover up the facts, it need only be the very thinnest of veils because “People don’t look, people don’t think.”

Three weeks ago I drove to Queens to speak at a shul in the heart of the Bukharian community. The title of my talk I took from my April column here in The Jewish Press, “Send in the Clowns” and I added a subtitle, “The presidential election and the Torah.”

I chose my words very c-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y.

I noted that I was Scottish and can’t vote. Having established neutrality, I went on to address the general criticisms leveled at each of the candidates by o-t-h-e-r-s (not me, you see!) and looked at those criticisms through a Torah lens to ascertain whether or not they were serious concerns.

I began with Hillary and her penchant for being economical with the truth. (It’s not that I’m against politicians lying, you understand; I expect them to. I just expect than to be much better at it than Hillary is).

Then I turned to Donald (who has had more than a few Pinocchio moments himself), focusing on his habit of speaking in offensive and crude terms about other people. This was particularly true with regard to his comments about women and I explained to the audience why this was a concern from a Torah perspective.

Finally I turned to Bernie, that proud self-described son of “Polish” (not Jewish) immigrants.

During my talk, no one seemed upset with my less than positive remarks about Hillary and Bernie. I had chosen my words c-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y and I was very pleased with the results.

But then came my remarks about Donald and – boom! – a man was on his feet demanding to know what evidence I had “that Mr. Trump had ever spoken badly about any woman.”

For starters I reminded him about the well-known female journalist Donald attacked in the most offensive terms.

“That,” replied my interlocutor, “was only because she had attacked him!”

I furrowed my brow and asked, “So you do concede he has spoken badly about women?” The man simply ignored what I had told him and repeated, “Mr. Trump has never spoken badly about any woman.”

I considered pointing out that he was ignoring the facts but then I recalled the aforementioned observation that “People don’t look, people don’t think” and thought better of it.

Which brought to mind a recent conversation I had with a well-known New York journalist about the differences between broadcast media here and in the UK.

In England, newspapers declare their political preferences and people buy them for that reason. TV and radio, though, are different. The BBC as well as commercial stations are hardly free from accusations of bias, but none would dream of debating any issue on air without all sides of the debate represented. In the U.S. that is simply not so.

My friend agreed. Then he claimed that Americans generally do not want to hear the other side of the debate. They like to have their preferences and prejudices confirmed by others who share the same preferences and prejudices.

After the slaughter in Orlando, President Obama got very, very angry at those who would link the outrage to Islam. Should the U.S. Muslim community be under surveillance? he asked incredulously. (Millions listened, rolled their eyes, and said “Duh!”)

The focus, he argued, should be on gun control more so than the Islamist threat.

Many in the media then immediately swung into action to condemn the Republicans for allegedly supporting even the most extreme anti-gun control measures. Pundits and Democratic Party officials noted that you can be on a government watch-list as a suspected terrorist and be banned from flying but still legally buy a gun with which to kill innocent people. Insane, right?

But…that is not the position of the Republican Party or even the NRA. Because I like to check the facts, I went to the NRA website. Turns out the organization is opposed to suspected terrorists (as well as people with a history of serious mental illness) being able to buy guns.

So someone here is exploiting a tragedy for political capital. It might be Obama, Hillary, and the Democrats. It might be the GOP and Donald (although he tweeted that he supports banning watch-list people from buying guns). It might be all of them.

To those who like to have their existing preferences and prejudices confirmed by people who share them, the “truth” is always obvious.

But there are those who prefer to check the truth and who object to people like Barack, Hillary, Bernie, and Donald drawing the thinnest of veils over it because they are convinced that “People don’t look, people don’t think.”

That’s a good thing, particularly when a country is about to choose someone who will lead it for at least four years. Not thinking about the facts is a condition that can have serious consequences. Sometimes they’re fatal.

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Rabbi Y Y Rubinstein is a popular international lecturer. He was a regular Broadcaster on BBC Radio and TV but resigned in 2022 over what he saw as its institutional anti-Semitism. He is the author of twelve books including most recently, "Truly Great Jewish Women Then and Now."
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