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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