| The information age has placed a particular emphasis on data. Whatever question we have, we expect that someone already answered our question and posted it online. If we want to know a particular statistic, we expect that it exists and all we need is a google search to find it. A recent article discusses how this trend has affected election cycles. In earlier times, candidates presented their positions and qualifications, voters would form their own opinions and then polls and eventually elections would determine which candidates made the best impression on the people. Lately, however, more of the attention is on the polls than the substance of the candidates themselves. This is true in news coverage and also in how people determine who to vote for. People may choose to jump on the bandwagon and vote for the leader or go with the underdog because they like to see underdog’s win, but either way, such a voter is ignoring the substance and focusing on the polls. This week’s Torah reading speaks of three vessels that have rings attached to them so that poles can be placed in them and then can be transported: the Ark, the Shulchan (Table holding Showbreads), and the small alter. The difference between the poles inserted in the rings of the Ark as opposed to the other two items is that the poles, used for transport, must remain in the rings; it is even prohibited to remove them. Why does this prohibition exist only for the Ark but not the Table or Alter? R. Meir Simcha of Dvinsk (1843-1926)[Meshech Chochmah 25:15] answers this question by exploring the role of lighting the Menorah. It seems fairly obvious that if there is a Menorah, we are supposed to light it. That, however, would not explain the obligation to light the Menorah during the daytime as well. We see that beyond the purpose we can comprehend on a human level, there is a loftier purpose — it appears to be G-d’s will that the Menorah be constantly lit. Lighting the Menorah during the day indicates a loftier (rather than practical) purpose and, as such, we understand that there’s a lofty (rather than merely practical) purpose to lighting the Menorah at night. This applies at night as well. The same holds true for the poles used to transport the Ark. We might think that their main purpose is to transport the Ark but the Talmud tells us that while the Jews were in transit, a miracle took place; those “carrying” the Ark would actually be carried by it! As such, the poles weren’t necessary to carry the Ark, they had some loftier purpose. This is indicated explicitly in the Torah’s text because even when the Ark is not moving, we have to leave the poles in the rings of the Ark. Although we don’t know what this loftier purpose is, we do know that we are mistaken if we see them as merely having practical utility. With the insight above, we can have a new perspective on how to perceive the Menorah and the other vessels, and realize that there is more substance than actually appears. We are constantly being bombarded with information that gives substance a backseat. When we see a “most popular” list on a website, it is not most popular because it is the most substantial but because other people liked it and then once it makes it onto the list, people click on it simply because it is on the most popular list. It is a self-propagating cycle that tells us to value what other people like rather than what is truly valuable. [See this 2013 article in The Atlantic that goes into this further.] In today’s day and age, we need to look at any data with Talmudic antennae and try to determine if that data is substantive on its own or whether it is based on buzz with the substance only appearing if we try to dig beneath the surface. If we seek out substance, we will find the truth, not only in Torah, but in all areas of life. Good Shabbos
Every year on the Shabbos before Purim, we read (Deutoronmy 25:17) about Amalek, a horrible nation whose memory we are meant to obliterate. At the time of the exodus from Egypt, Amalek traveled hundreds of miles to ambush the newly freed nation in the hope of destroying them. We, as a nation, did not pose any threat to their sovereignty. They lived to the east of Canaan and were not among the Seven Nations occupying the Land of Israel. Nevertheless, their irrational hatred against G-d and the Jews compelled them to attack a harmless and seemingly defenseless nation. After their attack, we were commanded to always remember the evil that is Amalek. The Rabbis of the Talmud selected the Shabbos before Purim for the fulfillment of this reading because Haman, the archenemy in the Purim story, was a direct descendent of Amalek.
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