Yochanan Gordon

I believe that breaking news used to be a thing. Anyone who grew up before the era of smartphones with alerts that introduce every story with the words “breaking news” probably remembers a time when those words communicated some earth-shattering stories. Now, if you’re a Mets fan and it’s important to you that the Amazins made a good roster move, then I guess that could constitute breaking news. But you get what I mean.

Just about every day, there are items categorized as “breaking news.” This compelled me to think deeper into the term and to figure out what it is really conveying. There is a concept in Torah exegesis that says: “Ein mikra yotzei mi’dei peshuto.” Often we remove verses from their literal realm of interpretation for the sake of revealing deeper layers in Torah; however, at the end of the day there is a fundamental message being imparted in the manner in which the words of a pasuk or ma’amar Chazal were said and that can never be removed from its original intention. Although this is a principle in Torah exegesis, I am a firm believer that ultimately everything we encounter in life contains unique messages of hashgachah pratis and significance, regardless of whether it exists in the realm of sanctity or mundane, everyday life.

This is important to hear because the very term “breaking news” doesn’t employ the term “breaking” at its literal level. The word “to break” implies to break into pieces through the use of force. Obviously, it’s used in other syntaxes as well, as in pausing or taking a break, and the assumption is that breaking news requires a break or pause in a regular scheduled program in order to be reported—hence the term “breaking news.”

In this context, however, it led me to think about the term “news,” since the two words often go together. It occurred to me that the word “news” possesses the same letters as the word “sewn,” which implies a number of things. Often stories are fabricated, which in our day and age has taken on a new categorization known as “fake news.” However, it could also mean that there are many details in a story that often need to be pieced together before understanding the full message that it is conveying.

I was thinking of the Hebrew word for news, which is “chadashot,” and I found a fascinating phenomenon. The root of the word “chadashot” is “chadash,” which means new. However, if we rearrange three letters of the root word “chadash,” it yields “chashad” as well as “shochad,” which mean suspicion and bribery. This seemed way too relevant to be cast aside so I allowed it to remain in its conceptual stages of my intellectual faculties until it began to emerge in its fullness with all of its parts intact.

Much of what we are exposed to on the daily news circuits are suspicions that are bandied about and applied to various people and parties depending on which network it is you are tuned in to. Often the aspersions that news anchors attempt to cast upon a political opponent end up reflecting on the person reporting the story. This is tied to the famous teaching of the Ba’al Shem Tov in which he said that because people are innately subjective to themselves, G-d created the world in such a manner that we only see our own shortcomings in the way we view other people. The only situation in which a person could apprise a colleague of a fault or character defect is if he raises it without passing judgment on that person in any way, shape, or form—as matter-of-factly as notifying him that he has a piece of tissue stuck to the bottom of his shoe.

So, those in the business of reporting the news are inevitably vulnerable to the interpretations of their many readers. And although the purpose of the reportage is for the ensuing conversation that it inspires, it often could lead to faulty conclusions about the people or entities that are reporting it.

I’m reminded of a Midrash that I came across on Parashas Balak that says that everything that Bilaam was guilty of, Moshe was suspected of. This is part of a much longer lesson in the sefer Pri HaAretz by Reb Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk, but it relates to the fact that Moshe represented the holy sense of awareness within the Jewish people while Bilaam represented the side of klipah, which means opaqueness and lack of clarity as to the source of all things. So while Moshe was the ultimate servant of G-d and achieved the revelation of the Shechinah upon him at all times, because the Shechinah only rests on a chacham, gibor, ashir, and anav, it’s only in the ability of these virtuous characteristics to elevate certain character traits to their source in divinity. However, in the absence of the perfected sense of humility to achieve that goal, one could suspect someone like Moshe of engaging in the things that his nemesis Bilaam was himself guilty of.

So although we can’t control the way people think and certainly not what people say—unless, of course, we rob them of the freedom to speak—we could say unequivocally that we disavow violence in all of its forms

Yochanan Gordon can be reached at ygordon5t@gmail.com. Read more of Yochanan’s articles here.

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