It’s All In The Angle

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The most mundane things can sometimes prove unexpectedly educational.

Not long ago I was in a kosher eatery waiting for a take-out order to be filled. Hanging from the ceiling was a not-so-kosher appliance, its screen displaying a World Cup game. I have never been a fan of organized sports (even real, American, football) but the action did draw me in, especially since what was taking place was the American team scoring a decisive goal against Algeria. (Have never had deep feelings for Algeria either.)

Something about the broadcast fascinated me, although it is probably wholly unremarkable to sports aficionados. After the ball sailed past the goalie and hit the net, and fans with faces painted red, white and blue erupted in a frenzy, the screen quickly showed the goal-scoring again, this time not from above the action but from a camera that had filmed the very same moments from right behind the goal. And then a third time from yet another camera at an entirely different vantage point. What struck me was how different the same event looked when viewed from different places. Although I had watched the same happening three times, it felt as if I had seen three different episodes.

The thought returned to me the following Sabbath, when the weekly portion of Balak was read in the synagogue. The sorcerer-prophet Bil’am, hired by King Balak to pronounce a curse on the Jewish people, was denied that opportunity by G-d. When he breaks the news to his sponsor, Balak responds: “Come with me to another place from where you will see them; however, you will see only a part of them, not all of them and curse them for me from there” (Numbers 23:13).

It had long puzzled me why the king imagined that having Bil’am look at the Jews from a different place might facilitate a successful curse. This year, though, the FIFA instant replay-from-multiple-angles provided me an understanding.

Things can look very different from different vantage points. Not only soccer players but communities. Watching the goalie from near his own point of view, it was clearly quite impossible for him to block the ball. Seeing the scene from above and afar, though, he seemed almost negligent in not deflecting the missile. Perceiving the Jewish people from a different place, Balak may have hoped, would provide a different perspective, perhaps revealing or seeming to reveal something negative, some vulnerability into which a curse might successfully settle.

Not long ago, at the request of a broad array of Jewish religious leaders, as many as 100,000 Orthodox Jews in Israel marched with a group of parents to the jail where the latter had been sent by Israel’s Supreme Court for their refusal to heed the court and send their children to a particular school. There were, it was accurately reported, no disturbances or incidents of violence among the huge crowd.

That wasn’t surprising to any of us who recognize that when maverick “activists” in some Orthodox circles engage in stone-throwing or garbage burning, they are acting against the wishes of the community’s recognized leaders and in the service only of the violent tendencies some young men in all communities seem unwilling or unable or to control.

Yet the lack of any violence, especially considering the size of the crowd and the strong feelings that had motivated the crowd’s members to gather, was remarkable to some – particularly consumers of contemporary mass media, which tend to portray isolated acts of uncouthness as normative in Orthodox circles. In any event, the calm at the march was duly noted.

One commentator, though, chose to see it as reflecting negatively on the community. The lack of anything untoward at the massive demonstration, he asserted, shows that when the Orthodox leadership wants a gathering to be peaceful it will be. And, hence, when some hoodlums engage in behavior unbefitting a Jew, it must be that those leaders condone the same.

A different perspective, to be sure. And clearly, one born of seeing things from a camera aimed oddly.

We Jews have now entered a period of the Jewish year, the three weeks between the fast days of 17 Tamuz and Tisha B’Av, when we mourn the destruction of the Holy Temples, the second of which, the Talmud teaches, fell only seemingly to Roman attack but, in reality, to baseless ill will among Jews.

If ill will can be baseless, one might well ask, where might it originate?

One possibility, I think, may be our camera angle, our way of looking at one another. Perspective, in the end, is everything, and a skewed one can be a dangerous thing. When we see something objectionable in another, we do well to, so to speak, push pause – and go right to instant replay, from a different angle.

© 2010 AM ECHAD RESOURCES

[Rabbi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.]


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6 Responses

  1. cvmay says:

    Tal, that is slightly difficult to digest, when a mid size demo against the Karta parking center or Intel erupts into spontaneous violence, name calling and/or property damage. (more than a tiny minority within a minority).
    The Charedei community is divided into subdivisions as we are all aware of. Ihose that vote in elections, send their children to Chinuch Atzmai, Shas or Torani yeshivos and are intertwined to government programs have usually expressed a subdued, peaceful, diplomatic means of demonstration. Others do not, why is that??? The other community does not have representation within government circles and attention garnished from HEAVY DUTY demos may be the only way for their voice to be heard.. The underlying dilemma is, that us insiders can see/understand/discern the difference while the majority of Israeli lump all groups together and see only the DECREASE OF KVOD SHAMAYIM.

  2. L. Oberstein says:

    There is such a divide in Klal Yisroel. I hear that membership is falling in most non frum Temples as the younger generation doesn’t affiliate. There was an article in Hamodia about Rabbi Miller who left Pittsburg to assume a pulpit in Calgary and it said that there is 90% intermarriage there. We who live in our bubble think that the phenomenal growth , miraculous actually, of the frum community is the reality. We may be too oblivious to the carnage elsewhere. This is true in Israel also, but in a different way. The secular Jews speak Hebrew but they are lacking basic Jewish knowledge or involvement. We think the 300,000 man march was a great kiddush Hashem but does it have any influence on making one more Jew respect Torah?
    If the religious Jews in the world would be more willing to interact and befriend non observant Jews, we could do much to turn the tide,at least in some measure.

  3. Tal Benschar says:

    If the Rabbonim could control the populace to behave in a respectful manner in this instance, why have they not managed to do so in so many other examples?

    Because those who misbehave are a tiny minority within the minority who have little regard for most of the Rabbonim and consider them sell-outs to Zionists.

  4. cvmay says:

    I appreciate the advice to ‘pause, aim again, and look’ from another perspective.
    Much of the hostility, anger and intolerance may be caused by viewing every issue from ONE PERSPECTIVE only, IOW from my angle without shifting the camera lens and capturing the side, rear or slightly to the right/left of front. Thanks for the pointer.

  5. rachel w says:

    Perhaps (we can hope…) this peaceful demonstration will inspire others to see that it can be done.

  6. Kenneth Levy says:

    As a child I would often claim I was unable to do something, only to find the ability to do it later. Many times I heard the phrase “See, you can do it, but only if you really want to.”

    It was true for me then, and it’s true for this situation as well.

    Rabbi Shafran is right, what he described is the proper way from frum yidden to demonstrate-even if you don’t agree with the point of the demonstration. According to his essay, it was done in a menchlech manner, without violence, vandalism or verbal abuse.

    While I certainly applaud this, I can’t help but agree with the criticism/question. If the Rabbonim could control the populace to behave in a respectful manner in this instance, why have they not managed to do so in so many other examples?

    This example of good decorum remains, regrettably, atypical. Until this manner of protest becomes the norm, it will remain a question. A very valid one, in my opinion.