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The Numbers -- CHRONICLE Online/The WORD 06/06/24

Weekly On-line Rabbi's D'var-Torah


June 06, 2024

29 Iyar 5784

Parashat Bechukotai

Today, many people around the world are commemorating D-Day, when Allied troops—mostly from the US, Canada and Great Britain—landed on Normandy Beach in order to confront the Nazis on this date in 1944. On that single day, 2,501 American service people were killed, and another 5,000 were wounded. These are staggering numbers.  

A reporter named Larry LeSueur went ashore with the troops that day. It was his job to be a witness and tell the world what he saw. In an interview, though, he said, "It never occurred to me to tell them [the American public] about certain things I had witnessed.” (You can read more of what he said here.)

That really struck me.

He understood in that moment how awful the reality of war was, and that most people were not prepared to see or hear how awful it really was. He recognized that if ordinary Americans understood how awful that day was, it might undermine America’s resolve to defeat the Nazis. If the American public had known exactly what happened that day in real time, perhaps they would have thought that the US was losing the war. There might have been pressure to call off the invasion. I don’t want to even imagine what would have happened if the US had decided to turn back after all those losses on D-Day and the Nazis had remained in power.  

It is a striking contrast with the way that war is conducted today. War is just as horrible. However, we expect to see—and we often do see—the effects of war in real time. And, as Mr. LeSueur surmised all those years ago, it’s not necessarily a good thing that we get to see these things. It often leads us to false conclusions. It can lead us to call on one side to turn back before reaching any of its objectives. Public opinion can change the trajectory of a war. And all that assumes that the information is accurate. False information can have an even greater impact on a war.  

Just today, we have a perfect example. Israel claims to have targeted terrorists operating out of a school compound in Gaza. Hamas claims that Israel killed mostly women and children. Of course, the majority of media outlets have decided to take Hamas—the terrorists—at their word. I haven’t read any condemnations of Hamas for operating out of a school. 

I am not suggesting that we should accept every report from the IDF without trying to verify it. I’m just asking responsible journalists to stop accepting every report from Hamas as the unvarnished truth. Hamas has been caught lying numerous times since October 7th, and each time, it has turned world opinion against Israel.  

I am grateful that Israel has not turned back. I don’t want to even imagine what would happen if Israel decided to turn back and Hamas were to remain in power.

This week in synagogues around the world, Jews are reading the Torah portion of Bamidbar—the opening chapters of the Book of Numbers. The portion begins with a census—a careful counting of the Children of Israel. It continues with instructions for how the tribes would be arranged around the Tabernacle. All of this was necessary for the journey to the Promised Land.

It seems to me that if the media would pay more attention to the numbers and to where the people are arrayed, that perhaps we’d be closer to the Promised Land of peace.



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