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Parsha Mitzvot: R’ei: The Wayward City II

In ‘Beware of Universal Thought’ we began to explore the practical lessons of the Mitzvot/Concepts of the Ir Hanidachat, The Wayward City.

Two people who can convince every inhabitant of a city, without exception, must be extraordinary persuaders.

My father zt”l loved to tell the story of a major Jewish Conference that took place when he was a teenager. Everyone knew that the agenda of the gathering was to publicly humiliate its long time leader and replace him as the head of the organization. The hall was packed beyond its standing-room-only capacity. People streamed in from all over the area to watch the well-deserved humiliation of the leader. My father and a few of his friends snuck away from Yeshiva to observe the man’s public punishment.

To be fair, the man was allowed to speak. “Within two minutes,” my father said, “he had the entire audience in the palm of his hand. When he lifted his hands, we all lifted our hands. When he smiled, we smiled. When he frowned, we frowned. We knew exactly what was happening to us, but it didn’t matter. When he finished, he was reelected by acclamation! Not a single person arrived at the meeting as a supporter, and not a single hand was raised to vote against him. Five minutes later we were shocked by what we had all done. He had captured us with his voice and words.”

I may not recall the story exactly as told by my father, but the idea is frightening: One speech can so capture the heart of the audience that everyone stops thinking!

I have experienced hearing a speech that moved me to tears and yet could not remember a single point of the speech. The speech moved me. It did not teach me. It captured me. It did not nourish me.

No wonder God chose Moshe, the man who was “heavy of speech,” to teach us His Torah.

Two people enter a city and are so compelling that they receive universal acceptance are powerful speakers, but they are not teachers. An idea that begins only through the influence of the speaker’s force of personality is empty. It’s dangerous. It will eat away at the hearts of the listeners either by depriving them of thought or by training them in accepting empty ideas as truth.

The laws of the Ir Hanidachat remind us to battle against those who speak and say nothing. They remind us to beware those who can move us without teaching, who can affect our moods without nurturing us, who have the power to convince us of anything to the point that we cease caring whether true or not.

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