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Moses appointed twelve emissaries to scout out the Holy Land and return with a report. The representative for the tribe of Ephraim was Moses’ primary disciple, Joshua. Until this time, the lad’s name was Oshua. But Moses added a letter to his name and called him Joshua.
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Home » Bullying, Events in the News, Ha'azinu

Freedom of Thought

Submitted by on October 1, 2022 – 10:43 pmNo Comment | 807 views

Freedom of thought is a G-d given right. In communist and socialist countries, the individual is made to cede to the collective. In dictatorships the collective is compelled to cede to the dictator. But this is not what G-d intended for us humans. G-d intended for us to have freedom of thought. He intended for us to have freedom of thought and for others to respect that freedom.

In our Parshah we read that G-d gave each nation its lot when He separated the sons of Adam and set up the boundaries of each people.[1] G-d wanted each nation to have its own space and come to its own conclusions. To accomplish this, G-d did not deem it necessary for each nation to live on an island. G-d set up boundaries that allowed each nation to reside beside other nations, but each would be distinctive.

Each would have its own culture, its own way of thinking, and its own opinions. Other nations would not take offense over these distinctions. It would be understood that differences are normal because people don’t think alike. Just as their faces are not alike so are their mindsets. That is no reason to take offense, or worse, go on the offensive, because someone dares to think differently from us.

The Great Tower
There was once a time without borders. All nations lived in peace; each in their own neighborhood. Everyone spoke a common language and shared a global country. There was no bickering and fighting because people respected each other.

This worked well until one king (Nimrod) attempted to create a single hegemony. He compelled all people to think his way and denied them the right to disagree. He sought to subordinate all nations under his rule and strip them of their independence. He wanted to take their freedom of thought.

To this end, he built the tower of Babel. The idea was that all tribes, nations, and groups would be compelled to submit to his grandiose rule and anyone who pushed back would be thrown into the cauldrons. The punishment for independent thinking was death by fire.

G-d would have none of it. He responded by assigning each nation a different language. With one fell stroke, G-d laid waste to Nimrod’s plan. Language is the tool of communication. If you don’t share a language, you can’t communicate. If you can’t communicate, you can’t be heard or understood. Nimrod could shout and scream all day, but no one would understand a word he said.

By the nature of things, each group returned to their original space and regained their independence. No one could force their views on anyone because no one could communicate with anyone. This enabled each nation to cultivate its own culture, value system, foundational principles, etc. Each nation became distinctive again restoring their freedom of thought. Moreover, the tribes and groups within each nation was also free to develop their unique perspective and take on the world.

From this standpoint, and from a strong base of respect and independence, nations began to reach out to each other through ambassadors and interpreters. This was the key to peaceful unity.

This is what the Torah means when it says that G-d gave each nation its lot and set up the boundaries by separating the people. So long as peace reigned, there was no need for boundaries and separations. Nations respected each other and celebrated their differences in peace. When one tyrant attempted to impose his views on the others, the only way to restore global freedom was to establish land and language barriers between nations.[2]

Light and Dark
It is odd to suggest that separating nations from each other and establishing boundaries to keep them apart, is a formula for unity. But that is precisely what unity is. Unity doesn’t mean that all tribes and ethnic groups shed their individualism and join a single melting pot. It means that every group retains its independence of culture and its freedom of thought.

Moreover, each group’s independence is respected by all. No one is offended that someone is different because everyone is expected to be unique. Unique nations then meet and are enriched by the interaction.

This is implied by the Hebrew words for light and dark, or more accurately for morning and evening. Boker, the Hebrew word for morning also means to examine. Erev, the Hebrew word for evening also means to mix. The message is that in the evening when it is dark and distinctive marks are invisible, the world becomes a confusing mixture. In the daytime, when we can examine each distinctive and unique mark, each group can stand for itself.

When independent people are forced to shed their distinctiveness, surrender their freedom of thought, and submit to the strongest bully, it is a sign of darkness. When each group is permitted to shine, to assert its independence of culture and thought, it is a sign of light. Peace is only possible when people are permitted to assert themselves with dignity. When pluralism is shut down by hegemony, it is an era of darkness.[3]

Respect Their Space
When you see everyone as one big blend, you encroach on their space. There is no need for them to think for themselves if you can dictate to them. There is no reason for them think if you consider yourself superior and wiser. It makes more sense for you to think for them. This is when you begin to encroach on their space and shut them down. This is not unity. This is not peace. This is hegemony and dictatorship.

Sukkot is the festival that represents the community of nations. Every day, Jews brought offerings to pray for each of the seventy biblical nations from which all modern nations descend. Jews did not shut down these cultures, erase their language, wipe out their history, or subdue their warriors. On the contrary, Jews prayed for the welfare of nations, each safely ensconced within its respected and protected borders.

The world today pays lip service to such freedom but is increasingly moving away from it. We are moving from the proverbial light to darkness. From unity to imposition. From peace to dictatorship. From democracy to globalism.

Today, people are no longer permitted to hold differing views. If we disagree with a value others hold, we are accused of triggering. Rather than explain their reasoning, they berate us for having the audacity to think. It matters not whether the subject is gender identity, abortion, climate change, MAGA, systemic racism, BDS, or the war in Ukraine. If there is disagreement, it comes to blows, not discussion.

Rarely do people sit around the table and talk about their views. Increasingly, people look across the aisle with malice and demonize those who dare to disagree. This is not G-d’s prescription for humanity. G-d wants us to find peace through independence. Unity through freedom. G-d’s way is not the path of hegemony. G-d’s path is one in which every group rests secure within its borders, respected by all.

[1] Deuteronomy 32:7.

[2] This reading of the Tower of Babel is based on Haamek Davar, Genesis 11:1–9; and Genesis 28:3.

[3] Rabbi Yehudah Lowe, Chidushei Aggados, Shabbos 25b.