Expressing Opinions, A Jewish Value

By Rabbi Steven Bayar

The events of this past week have been a sobering reminder of the perilous world in which we live. The ability to criticize and satirize issues, people and power is a right that is strictly guarded in Western democracies. It is also a Jewish value learned from the Torah.

This week in the Torah portion God will communicate with God through the burning bush. God will instruct Moses to return to Egypt and free the Jews from Egyptian enslavement. In this well-known passage Moses will refuse God’s charge four times. What is most instructive is the arguments used by Moses to demur.

As God assures Moses that all will be well, Moses asks God, “Who are you? What is your name that I should tell the Israelites who are to be saved?” In essence Moses is criticizing God. He implies, “How can they know who you are when you abandoned them 400 years ago? How should they know who you are?” Or, more to the point, “Where have you been?”

What a fascinating question. Over the next 40+ years Moses will speak to God “face to face.” There will be arguments, pleading and criticisms free-flowing between them. This is the paradigmatic relationship modeled for us by the Torah. While we are asked to do God’s will, we are free agents to comment upon it.

If we as humans are allowed (in fact encouraged) to express our opinions about God, how much the more so are we allowed (in fact encouraged) to express our opinions about people – even people in power?

Throughout our history we have seen that rulers and governments which do not allow dissent and show the least flexibility are the most brittle. Over time they cannot succeed. Let us hope that this remains so.