Let me tell you about one of the best known woman in the Jewish world. And yet, few if any of us, know her name: Sivan Rahav-Meir. Ring a bell? I thought so! You’ve never heard of her. I never heard of her till my colleague, Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg told me about her. I’ll share with you some of what he said. 1st he noted that, “she’s a prime time anchor woman on Israel TV Channel 2, a radio talk show host, a columnist for Israel’s most popular newspaper Yediot Achronot, a Biblical scholar and author, has 130,000 followers on Facebook, and to top it off, she’s a Rebbitzin!” And you and I have never heard of her!
The Jewish Forward (9/18/17) reports that Sivan Rahav-Meir was born and raised in a secular home in Herzliya. At 18 she entered the army, having already completed a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. In the army she served as a reporter for the Israel Defense Forces radio station, after which she grew increasingly observant and met her husband—Rabbi Yedidya Meir, a reporter on religious affairs also for the IDF newspaper.
The Jewish Forward reports that while on maternity leave for her 5th child she asked herself: What was I busy with? I felt I was done with talking about Judaism in a superficial way—the internal politics of Jewish groups, the Knesset, the Supreme Court. It was becoming boring…I realized that as much as I was talking about Jewish issues, I was never speaking about Torah itself.
So Sivan began to give Torah lectures and she found a hungry audience. She said: I thought, perhaps I can use these tools of the media—knowing how to attract people’s attention, show them what’s important—and apply them to Torah study…I saw that whenever I touched Judaism in my work as a journalist the reaction was crazy—my social media posts had sometimes a reach of 1 million weekly.
Sivan has evolved into a female sort of Hasidic grand rabbi, with 1,000 people attending her weekly lectures, 130,000 following her posts on Facebook as I mentioned, and another 10,000 subscribers to her daily WhatsApp Torah thought. She put her thoughts on the weekly Torah portion into a book which became a bestseller in Israel, and now is available in English called, #Parasha.
Why am I telling you all about Sivan Rahav-Meir? Because what she has to say about this week’s Torah portion speaks to a thought on a subject that has been on my mind, but which I have trouble speaking about—but she can! Her Torah thought on this week’s Torah portion, is called, “Don’t Jump to Conclusions.”
Today’s Torah portion is Mishpatim—literal translation—“civil laws.” And so it has within it 53 laws—the bulk of the civil laws of the Jewish people. Civil law is considered so important that one of the 7 Noahide laws that even non-Jews must observe tells of the importance of having a legal system where everyone is equal under the law. In fact, our sages go as far as to say that one who rules incorrectly in a civil case, plays a role in destroying this world. Of all the 53 laws in our parsha, Sivan Rahav-Meir seizes on this one (Ex. 23:3): V’dal lo tehdar b’rivo (You shall not favor a poor person in his grievance). It’s a surprising choice! Of all the biases and mistakes that could be made in a judicial system, few would think that we had to be warned not to favor the poor or weak in judgment. Sure, there’s a concern about favoring the rich and famous—the popular and the powerful. They have friends in high places, can afford high-powered lawyers and a well-oiled PR machine. But a danger of favoring the poor? The weak?
Sivan writes: The Torah warns us not to automatically take the side of the poor person because the underdog is not always right. Just because he is dressed in rags, it does not necessarily mean that justice is on his side and sometimes the person dressed in a designer suit just may be in the right.
Let me give you an example of how right she is by telling you about another woman who is even better known than Sivan Rahav-Meir. In fact, she’s become an international celebrity. Once again, I have a feeling most of you don’t know who she is. Her name is Ahed Tamimi. She’s all of 16 years old, but she’s won the hearts of international protest movements. Amnesty International is one of her major supporters. Posters regarding her are found at bus stops in Europe. Some have called her “the Rosa Parks of Palestine.” Why?
Recently, with her mother videotaping, Ahed—a cute, blond Palestinian girl—along with one of her friends, approached 2 Israeli soldiers near her home, shoved them, kicked them and slapped them. Do you know what these Israeli soldiers did? Nothing! They refused to be provoked. As CNN described it, “The clip has captured imaginations and divided assessments in the region and further afield—the court of public opinion trying the case, as it always does, on the Internet.”
Yes, on the Internet, on Facebook, that’s where judgement takes place these days. The Sanhedrin has been replaced by social media where this was just another one of Israel’s war crimes—a big, bad solider confronting a poor damsel in distress. This poor little girl is fighting oppression. How can she possibly be wrong standing up to the mighty Israeli army which later arrested her? Poor baby!
This is what happens on the Internet. People who know nothing about nothing believe the little guy. In Sivan Rahav-Meir’s words: The Torah is hinting to us that in many cases public opinion unwittingly favors the underdog. This might be due to populism or the influence of Hollywood movies, but it is a given…A soldier who feels he has been mistreated will get more public sympathy than his commanding officer, and a parent who organized a petition against the school principal will be considered a hero who fights against the corrupt and indifferent establishment. Those are her words, not mine!
Just how dangerous this mindset is, is reflected in the words of a 3rd woman—even more famous than these 2, and one whose name you certainly know: Oprah Winfrey. Magician David Copperfield appeared on her show. He had endured a 2-year investigation by the FBI when a former Miss Washington runner-up accused him of trapping her on his private island in the Bahamas and repeatedly sexually assaulting her. No evidence was ever found against Copperfield, and the charges were dropped after his accuser went on to accuse another man of something similar. Copperfield spoke to Oprah after the incident was over and he told her that, “To be falsely accused of something that horrendous is a devastating thing not just for yourself, but your family, friends. It is really bad. When the truth comes out—you know, she was arrested and not me—finally things come to light. Unfortunately, in the press what happens is…” and Oprah cut in, “People remember the charge, they don’t remember the exoneration.”
“People remember the charge…they don’t remember the exoneration.” No wonder our tradition tells us: “He who judges incorrectly destroys the world”…destroys the world of family and friends and institutions whose names have been besmirched before the full story gets to be told.
Copperfield later wrote on social media: The #MeToo movement is crucial and long overdue. We all want people who feel they’ve been victims of sexual misconduct to be empowered, and as a rule we should listen, so more will feel comfortable coming forward. It’s important…But imagine what it’s like believing in the movement, and having also been falsely accused publicly in the past.
The Torah lesson for today is a simple one. V’dal lo tehdar b’rivo (You shall not favor a poor person—or the underdog—in his grievance). It’s the words of Sivan Rahav-Meir: “Don’t jump to conclusions.” To which we should all say, Amen!