I think The View would have saved themselves a lot of heartache had they changed their name to A View, or, A-View-by-People-who-have-No-Background-in-any-Topic-they-Discuss-but-are-simply-Sharing- their-Uninformed-View. The View?! It’s like they’re asking for it.
Anyway, as you all know, this past week on a wildly popular show, one of the hosts, Whoopi Goldberg, made a ridiculously uninformed comment. She said, and I quote, the Holocaust was “not about race … it’s about man’s inhumanity to other man.” The Holocaust, not about the Aryan race being superior, and the Jewish race being in the need of extermination. Hmmm…
The next day she appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert (which by the way, A Late Show would probably be a little more accurate, but okay), and instead fully of taking responsibility for her ignorance, she said things like, “I felt differently,” or, as a Black woman she sees race as based on skin color, and she encouraged people to stop telling her off. In other words, she didn’t exactly apologize.
ABC, the producers of the View, then went ahead and suspended Whoopi Goldberg from the show for two weeks.
Now my initial reaction was wow, this is amazing. This was the same week in which Neo-Nazi protests, attended by sheriffs, were taking place in Florida. This was the same week that swastikas were found all over a Jewish community in Chicago. This was the year in which antisemitic acts skyrocketed. And despite all this blatant rise in antisemitism, I, and so many of us have felt like no one other than Jews seems to care. And so, the fact that a prominent individual was punished for her insensitive remarks, that played into dangerous stereotypes and misunderstandings of who the Jewish People are, was very heartening; people are standing up for us.
A little later, Whoopi met with Jonathan Greenblatt of the ADL and did apologize. But a new question arose; was her apology sincere? Was her apology complete? Was her apology enough? Sign onto your favorite social media platform and watch as people debate this point.
If we were zoom out just a little, we would see how this entire saga touches upon one of the major trends of the day; cancel culture. Cancel culture is defined by Wikipedia as: “a modern form of ostracism in which someone is thrust out of social or professional circles – whether it be online, on social media, or in person. Those subject to this ostracism are said to have been “cancelled”.
Some examples: Some obscure Dr. Seuss books incorporate some negative stereotypes and images. The publisher recently decided to remove the books.
Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head are being “reimagined” as gender-neutral so as not to be offensive to those who do not identify as a male or female.
Prominent conservative politicians led the way in cancelling Colin Kaepernick, the knee-bending football player.
People tried to cancel J.K. Rowling for comments that were not seen as sufficiently progressive.
And my favorite, a leading food magazine, Bon Apetit, publicly apologized for running a title, How to Make Actually Good Hamantaschen. The author, who is not Jewish, apparently does not like Hamantaschen – neither do I, but his comments were seen as offensive, and he ultimately lost his job.
The final example, I guarantee this speech and its writer will be cancelled. Guaranteed.
On the one hand, it really is beautiful that our society has been awakened to the power of words, and how “comments” can hurt far more than sticks and stones. And at the same time, the fact that there are cultural police on the left and the right, ensuring that people are saying only what is ‘correct’ prevents healthy dialogue. If we don’t like you, we shut you down. There is no exchange of ideas and there are no second chances. You say the wrong thing, you’re canceled. You wore the wrong thing ten years ago, you’re canceled. And once you’re canceled the damage is done.
And as the term so perfectly captures it, it is not just that people are being canceled, it is a culture of cancellation. Every comment we make is seen through the prism of cancellation. Not just with prominent people, but I hear it all the time among friends and even family. “I no longer speak to this person because they said XYZ.” Though they may not use the words, that is culture cancel culture at work. When we reject an apology out of hand from a spouse because it’s not enough or it’s too late, that’s cancel culture at work. I am less worried about the impact of cancel culture on Whoopi Goldberg and Hamantaschen, they’ll both be okay. I am worried about how Cancel Culture is affecting me and you.
Our parsha begins with instructions to build a Mishkan. According to Rashi, the Mishkan was a gift to the Jewish People. After sinning with the Golden Calf, G-d wanted to make it abundantly clear how He accepted their repentance, and so He instructed them to build a shared home, so they would know that He forgave them.
When the Jewish People sinned, G-d invited Moshe to defend the Jewish People. He didn’t immediately take to Twitter and start posting #It’sOver. He asked Moshe if he had a defense for the Jewish People’s egregious sin. Let’s talk about it.
If there was anyone who should have been cancelled, it was the Jewish People. A mere few weeks after G-d saved from slavery, they disobeyed one of ten rules that He gave them. Put differently, a few days after beginning a relationship with G-d, they sabotaged the relationship. The Talmud describes their sin as a bride committing adultery during Sheva Berachos. Not only that, their apology was imperfect. They were unable to undo the impact of their sin.
And yet, G-d said, salachti, I have forgiven you.
G-d said, I will always forgive you.
A fundamental flashpoint between Judaism and Christianity is this point: Did G-d ever ‘cancel’ the Jewish People? We firmly believe that the answer is no. Our bond with G-d is unbreakable. G-d is always ready to forgive.
Judaism rejects cancel culture out of hand. We have a different culture. It’s called Teshuva Culture. It’s a culture that promotes dialogue, forgiveness, and understanding.
The Torah places the building of the Mishkan before the sin of the Golden Calf in order to demonstrate how deeply imbedded forgiveness is in the fabric of life. The reconciliation is mentioned before the sin to demonstrate that the starting point and foundation is one of Teshuva, of repentance, change, and reconciliation. The Mishkan, the Bais Hamikdash, and their progeny, the Shul, all remind us of the culture we are meant to build. A culture of Teshuva.
What exactly is Teshuva culture? What does it look like?
In Teshuva culture, when someone says something you disagree with, we reach out to them before blasting them on social media or to all of our friends. Teshuva culture is a culture in which we speak to one another and try our best to understand where the other party is coming from.
In Teshuva culture, when someone apologizes, we try our utmost to accept it. We recognize that it’s very hard to apologize, but we believe that people are ultimately good and want to change and be better.
Teshuva culture means that instead of attacking the smallest misstep of our spouse, of our family member, or our friend, we celebrate the smallest move in the right direction.
Teshuva culture means that we do not give up on others and that we do not give up on ourselves.
Judaism has been a counter-cultural movement from its inception. In the first few days of our nation’s existence, G-d made it clear that we are not a culture of cancelation, we are a culture of acceptance, of forgiveness, of belief in the basic good of one another. The world needs a culture of Teshuva today more than ever. It’s time to start a cultural revolution. Not on social media, not through TV shows that don’t really matter. But in our homes and in our hearts. A culture of forgiveness, of seeing the good in others and in our selves, of believing that G-d never gives up on any human being, and trying to do the same.