Motti Wilhelm

Why the Debate Barely Matters

While debates are a strong American tradition, they hardly change opinions.
While debates are a strong American tradition, they hardly change opinions.

If you thought he was too old, he was. If you thought he was unwieldy, he was. And if you subscribed to these positions before, you most likely simply hold them stronger now.

Let’s be honest, debates rarely change opinions. Most of the time, they simply reinforce positions. It’s called confirmation bias: the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms or supports one’s prior beliefs or values.

Nowhere is this played out as much as in our approach to the stories of the Torah.

One who comes with a Greek mythology approach of the gods being angry will find Divine wrath everywhere they look. When it rains, He’s angry, and when it’s hot, He is angry. He is angry at Pharaoh and becomes angry at Moses.

If one is educated with the Jewish approach of a merciful and loving G-d, they will find that mercy even in the most difficult of stories.

When G-d threatens to destroy the Jewish people after the sin of the golden calf, they will notice that G-d tells Moses “allow me,” essentially empowering Moses to come to the people’s defense and save them.

When after the sin of the spies, it becomes clear that this generation is incapable of taking hold and establishing Jewish life in the Promised Land, one who reads with a Jewish approach will see how, in between the text, there is a message that these people will become elevated and uplifted in their passing, allowing their children to be those who enter the land.

Where the Greek sees punishment, the Jew sees a corrective measure. Where the Greek sees anger, the Jew sees care.

The Jewish bias was championed by the Rebbe, whose thirtieth yahrzeit the world will observe in just under two weeks. In every aspect of life, from the people we come in contact with to the challenges we face, from the stories of the Bible to the wars in Israel, the Rebbe explained how events were intentional and purposeful. The book Positivity Bias documents this approach across 400 pages.

Confirmation bias is not always a good thing, but putting on Jewish lenses is. A Jew sees a caring Creator and a wonderful world of opportunity.

About the Author
Rabbi Motti Wilhelm received his diploma of Talmudic Studies from the Rabbinical College of Australia & New Zealand in 2003 and was ordained as a rabbi by the Rabbinical College of America and Israel’s former chief Rabbi Mordecha Eliyahu in 2004. He was the editor of Kovetz Ohelei Torah, a respected Journal of Talmudic essays. He lectures on Talmudic Law, Medical Ethics and a wide array of Jewish subjects and has led services in the United States, Canada, Africa and Australia. His video blog Rabbi Motti's Minute is highly popular as are his weekly emails. Rabbi Wilhelm and his wife Mimi lead Chabad SW Portland as Shluchim of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
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