Next week, a film based on "The Minority Report," a short story written in 1956 by science fiction author Phillip K. Dick, premieres. It's a story about the abuse of knowledge obtained from three siblings, known as the "precogs," who have the specific ability to have foreknowledge of violent crimes. In the idyllic, almost Orwellian society, their skills are exploited to prevent crimes by arresting the perpetrators before the crimes are committed. Not everyone is comfortable with the system or ethics built around this unique precognitive ability. Dick's original story is a stark indictment of the abuse of knowledge. I do wonder how the story will wind up in the hands of Spielberg, but no matter.
In this week's parasha, we have a minority report as well. Unlike Mr. Dick's story, there are no "precogs" to know how things will turnout. There is, instead, only faith on which to go. (There is, in the parasha, some"one" who likely knows how the story will play out, but part of the point of this story is that it's not our province to know how things will turn out-we must trust in this some"one.")
It's hard to be in the minority. In Mr. Dick's story, when the protagonist begins to question the system, the system comes after him. In our parasha, the minority almost suffers a similar fate. Twelve "spies" are sent out by Moshe to survey the land of Canaan. In classic formulation, we have two views - a glass half-empty and a glass half-full. In this case the half-empties are the majority - the 10 spies who report on the giants and walled cities and numerous people which are sure to defeat the Israelites. Our half-fulls, Joshua and Caleb, certain that Gd will be with the people, report of a land flowing with milk and honey, and exhort the people to have faith in Gd. Their message was not heard.
It must have taken great courage for Joshua and Caleb to speak as they did, seeing how they must have been a clear minority. Yet they felt compelled to report the truth as they understood it, the reality as they perceived it, and share their conviction of faith in the Gd who had brought them forth from Egypt.
Except for the strict conformists out there, all of us at one time must have been part of a minority. Come to think of it, that's certainly the situation our people have found themselves in for almost 2000 years and more. What is it that sustains us amidst all the outside pressure? Usually a strongly-held belief, a faith. If this is a faith only in ourselves, then it might not be sustainable, and might even be suspect. It was not for themselves that Joshua and Caleb took the minority view. It was for Gd. The faith that sustains us as a minority must be a faith anchored in something greater than ourselves.
Lately, I've been finding myself being the minority report in several different areas of my professional and personal life. I have tried in each of those situations, to ascertain where my faith in my position comes from. If I determine it is mostly internal and self-justified, then I know that I may have trouble continuing to maintain and justify my minority position, and I need to re-examine my position. It's a hard lesson to learn, but an important one. It's always hard to have the certainty of conviction if the only thing holding up that faith was self-conviction.
It is equally hard, even if one determines that one's faith in a minority viewpoint is centered in something greater than one's self, to maintain that faith. Being in a minority bombards us with constant messages that ask us to question ourselves. Why are we the only one that feels how I do? Could I be wrong? (Questioning ourselves is a good thing, but not to excess.) Too much self-questioning can undermine even the surest faith, even one anchored in a greater power.
So, in those times when I have found myself in the minority, and having done the soul-searching necessary determined my conviction was not selfish or self-centered, I was able to have the courage of those convictions, and stand up for them. As did Joshua and Caleb.
Joshua and Caleb were rewarded for their faith. They got to enter the promised land. The majority multitudes who chose to follow their fears rather than their faith in Gd did not enjoy that reward, and knew that they would not, having been castigated by Gd for their lack of faith.
Yet here is a curious question that even the sages of our tradition raise. Why send spies at all if you have the faith that Gd will protect and deliver? It's a fair question, and one given a variety of possibly satisfactory answers by the rabbis and sages of our tradition. It may be, speculate some, citing the contradictory passage in Deuteronomy(1.22) that it was not Gd, but the people who needed the confirmation of a report by scouts, and that Gd was merely acquiescing to the demand.
However, I'd like to come back to Phillip K. Dick's story, which debates the ethical questions raised by having precognition and foreknowledge. If we have such knowledge, how might we appropriately use it and not abuse it?
The Israelites had, to some degree, a form of foreknowledge-one that came from their faith. This faith should have been enough to convince them to enter Canaan and conquer it. However, I must ask-were the people ready for such a gift? Probably not. The winnowing they went through in 40 years of wandering in the wilderness were probably needed to make the people ready. Gd probably knew that. Had the minority prevailed, and the people gone on to conquer Canaan right then and there, would they have attributed that success to Gd and to their faith? Would they have persevered? Might they not have abused their foreknowledge that Gd would protect them no matter what, and eventually fall victim to their own hubris?
Just because we might know how something might turn out, is it always the right thing to use that knowledge? That's the question that Phillip K. Dick's "The Minority Report" asks. So does parashat Shelakh Lekha.
As always, many sides of the question examined. Helpful ideas here for me whether I next find myself in the minority or the majority-for each situation carries its dangers.
So, how many of you agree with me? Hmmmm......
©2002 by Adrian A. Durlester
Lekha 5761 - Cover Up
Shelakh Lekha 5760 - Anamnesis
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