Matot-Massei: The Torah on Cancel Culture
Where in the Torah do we find a warning against ‘cancel culture’?
In Parshat Matot, we find that the tribes of Reuven, Gad and half the tribe of Menashe appealed to Moshe to allow them to dwell on the east side of the River Jordan. At first, Moshe questioned their sincerity, however, he then gave them a condition and said that if they would come to fight with the people in the conquest of Cana’an then,
“Vehyiytem nekiim meiHashem umiYisroel,” – “You will then be innocent and good in the eyes of Hashem and in the eyes of the people of Israel.” (Bamidbar 32:22)
Now this is intriguing. Surely if the two and a half tribes were to achieve a distinction in a report card from Hashem, it would not be necessary to receive a report card as well from the people! If they were to be found to be innocent and good in Hashem’s eyes, why is it necessary to say in the eyes of the people as well?
R’ Zalman Sorotzkin in his book Oznaim LeTorah’ explains beautifully. He says that sometimes we find a weakness in the minds and in the hearts of some people. Perhaps they have feelings of inadequacy within themselves or perhaps they are jealous of others and this results in them trying to tear others apart, to highlight a little point where, a little point there, and as a result to declare the entire person to be ‘treif’. That is why, with regard to the two and a half tribes, Hashem says that they should be ‘nekiim meiHashem umiYisroel’ – if they are good in the eyes of Hashem, that should be good enough for us. And the view of the nation should follow automatically.
I find this to be of enormous relevance at our time, when cancel culture is gaining strength within our society.
In Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers, 1:6 we are taught,
“Vehevei dan et kol ha’adam lekaf zechut.” – “You should judge every person favourably.”
But some explain ‘kol haadam’ actually to mean the whole person, meaning that when we view others we should look at the entire person, kol haadam – not just one little point concerning them but rather to see them in their entire context and as a result we we’ll always be able to judge people favourably.
From Parshat Matot we learn that if someone or something is good enough in the eyes of Hashem, it should also be good enough for us.