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This week’s Torah portion, Shelach l’cha, is famous for the story of the spies sent by Moses to reconnoiter the land of Canaan in the second year of the Exodus. You all know the story.
Moses picks 12 prominent men to assess the land and its inhabitants, to determine whether a military attack on the inhabitants would be successful and whether the land is worth conquering. The spies are gone for 40 days, and when they return they sing the praises of the land, but ten of them opine that the military attack would be unsuccessful: the people of the land are like giants. Joshua and Caleb, on the other hand, say that a military assault will be successful. You all know how the story ends: Moses heeds the opinion of the majority, and the Israelites spend 40 years wandering in the wilderness, one year for each day that the spies spent in Canaan.
Now I will tell a short story from the Talmud. The Exilarch, the leader of the Jewish community in Babylon, once did something scandalous. (Maybe more than once.) The moral voice of the community, the rabbis, debated among themselves: should they reprimand the Exilarch?
Rabbi Zeira said to Rabbi Simon, “You should reprimand the members of the house of the Exilarch,” because Rabbi Simon had some influence over them. Rabbi Simon responded, “They will not accept my reprimand.” To that, Rabbi Zeira answered, “You should reprimand even if they do not accept your rebuke.”
Together these stories teach a lesson: stick to your guns whenever you think that you are right, and do not care what people may think of your opinion. Many of the ancient Prophets were ignored or despised, but they insisted on airing their views. At all times, when we are faced with injustice, we have the obligation to protest injustice, even if we are ignored.