by Rabbi Berel Wein
Currently, we are constantly bombarded by the somber news that our planet is undergoing global warming and that unless checked and controlled we face very dire health and ecological consequences. Climate control has become the watchword of our generation. The environmentalists and "Greens" are definitely on the ascendancy and air and water pollution are the hot issues.
The emissions of greenhouse gasses are now subjects of control by legislation and administrative fiat. I am not an expert in this field but even to the unlettered it is obvious that climate control bears our attention and interest. The Torah certainly bids us to be careful regarding our stewardship over this planet. We are to develop and exploit its bounties but we are to be careful not to damage and destroy.
Care for the world, both its animate and inanimate components, is one of the basic values of Judaism. The Talmud records that we are to plant and preserve the world's resources – trees and other natural blessings – for the use and benefit of unseen generations yet to come. Care for our physical environment is thus an item that is stressed in Jewish life, at least in theory if not unfortunately yet completely in practice. Greater efforts in this regard should be made by our religious and temporal leaders.
As important as this type of climate control is, I nevertheless wish to discuss another type of climate control. And that is the control of our contents of subject matter that is printed, broadcast and publicly discussed. The Talmud taught us that the Jewish state was commanded to place clear directional road signs to direct a murderer convicted of accidental murder to the city of refuge where he was to remain until the death of the High Priest of Israel.
The later rabbis asked why was there no commandment to place directional signs on the road to Jerusalem for the Jews going up to the Temple to celebrate the festivals of the year. They answered that it was a matter of climate control. The Torah did not want the murderer to stop on the way and ask for directions to the city of refuge. People would then discuss murder and murderers over their breakfast coffee.
Eventually such conversations made murder a common everyday topic and eventually served to remove murder itself from being a horrific event to a common and almost acceptable occurrence in society. Murder became part of Jewish life when in reality it has no place in Jewish society. Jerusalem however was a topic worthy of discussion and interest.
Thus the Torah desired that people would stop and ask directions to Jerusalem, therefore making the Holy City an everyday topic of thought and conversation. This would increase the sense of uniqueness, holiness and mission within the Jewish society. And that would, so to speak, increase the sense of positively controlling the climate of discussion and interest in a society from whom holiness of behavior and attitude is a Torah demand.
The recent sordid incidents and interviews that have dominated the Israeli press over the Katzav-Mazuz matter are to me an illustration of this lack of climate control in our society. Not every explicit detail belongs in the paper. People told me that they did not bring the paper home because they did not want their children to be exposed to its contents.
The public's "right to know" is the excuse for all sorts of unnecessary and prurient contents. The secular press ridicules the Charedi newspapers that do not report on such occurrences in any detail. But in my mind those newspapers have a point. Murder, violence, sexual misconduct, corruption, crime, all are indirectly glorified and made acceptable by the unending publicity they receive.
I am well aware that these things are part of life. But dwelling upon them in morbid fascination only serves to heighten interest and eventually acceptance of such norms in our society. "All the news that is fit to print" was a slogan that was once adhered to. Today the definition of "fit to print" has slipped noticeably.
The Torah demands standards from all of us. What we say and discuss in everyday conversation is what creates the climate of the society that we live in. We should all be in favor of all types of climate control.
Reprinted with permission from Rabbi Wein