Since you and I haven’t communicated in over a year and your first reach out to me is about wanting to share your perspective on the COVID-19 vaccine, it is evident that this issue is very important to you, and it’s very important that I understand and even come to agree with your perspective.
I understand that based on the information you are exposed to and the sources of authority that you trust, that how the U.S. is handling the pandemic and even our very government is dangerous and needs to be fought. Based on the sources of authority that I trust, I see vaccinations as the solution to bringing our country out of this pandemic.
But what I really want to share with you is what is on my mind and heart regarding this subject. We live in a country that is more divided than I have ever experienced in my lifetime—and maybe in history since the Civil War. I believe that this division is due to people living in an information bubble with their own news sources, social media feeds, and in our internet-based world, we don’t have regular barbecues with our neighbors with diverse perspectives, giving us different ways to think about issues.
Instead, we are connected virtually to like-minded people who all reinforce our perspectives. This is true on the left and the right.
And all of the news sources and social media feeds that we watch have one agenda: to make money. And they do that by keeping us watching. They keep us watching by getting us riled up. No matter what happens around the world ,whether with COVID, vaccines or Israel, each source will present it in ways that make it a moral issue where there is only one appropriate response. And anyone who has a different response is an idiot, morally bankrupt, or part of the problem.
And what is so painful is that we have even begun to view our beloved family members as being on “the other side” if they don’t share our information and opinions. I’ve seen this tear apart members of my congregation, and I’m seeing it in our own family.
Truth is a slippery thing. In our separate media and social bubbles, there are entirely different sets of facts about what is true. Who do you trust? Each one of us can say. “Of course, it’s obvious, my set of facts is correct and the rest is just manipulated fake news.” But based on what? It’s important for all of us to reflect on why we accept authority in certain places and not in others.
Forgive me for being preachy here and waxing rabbinic, but our sages have had some fascinating discussions and teachings in the Gemara about the tension between truth and peace.
When interpreting Torah, they can interpret a pasuk in an infinite number of ways, creating countless midrashim. Which interpretation is the true one? Many opposing and different interpretations are given validity on the same page of the Gemara. We need to listen to them.
But in the countless arguments between Hillel and Shammai, the halacha always sides with Hillel. Why? Because Hillel always stated the opinion of Shammai before his own. Because Hillel allowed his students to eat with Shammais even though they disagreed about Kashrut. Because Hillel’s interpretations increased connection, love, and peace regardless of whether they were what the Holy One intended when the Torah was given.
So while I do my best to get as much information from as many perspectives as possible, both in news and relationships, and I have to make decisions and choices based on my best analytics of the information I have, I am aware that none of the “facts” can lead me to “the truth.”
Instead, I’m more interested in how to interpret the information that surrounds me in ways that increase more connection and peace with the people I love and who I’m connected with.
And you are my family. I’m sick and tired of these issues getting in the way of expressing our love for each other in all the beautiful ways we know how to do. I would really love to see each other soon and not make the focus of our conversation our opinions about what is happening in the world.
For sure, we can share and listen to each other, but I would like the focus to be what gives us meaning, joy, connection, inspiration, how we are dealing with sadness and isolation—the real stuff.
With love, K’vod
RABBI K’VOD WIEDER is a contributing writer to Jlife magazine.