You shall beware of those who live outside the walls...

When Moses was instructing the spies who were going to scout the land he admonished them "to beware of those who live outside the walls". Sounds like a very strange thing to say. Why should they beware of those who were not protected by walls?

Many a Rabbi tried, over the centuries, to give a meaning to this warning. And of course there are as many explanations as Rabbis tried. I want to present my own interpretation (to which I am entitled because I am a Jew)

I believe that Moses realized that those who dared to live outside the protection of the City walls did so because they were confident they could defend themselves and did not need the walls to protect them. Those who sought refuge within the city, however, preferred to let the walls do the protecting for them. Moses then concluded that the people who were confident enough to live outside the walls were in fact the most dangerous - Hence the warning.

In our day and age, the story takes an additional meaning. If instead of walls we talk about the protection of staying only with those who agree with you, we could think that "those who live outside the walls" are in fact "those who dare to listen to those they disagree with". In these days of Internet, listening to those we disagree with takes an extra effort... stay with me.

Every time you log into the internet, your browser uses al algoritm to identify your preferences, be it in shopping, news, or anything else. Why they do that? Because once they know your preferences, the algoritm is used to select what you see in the browser when you are just... well, browsing. The algoritm will select for you the advertisement you see (this is where the money is) and also what websites come up at the top of your searches when you use the search engine. Let's say you type "Israeli Palestinian Conflict". The Algoritm will identify, based on your prior choices, whether you prefer news that are pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian, and make sure your preferences, as the algoritm identifies them, will show at the top of your search list. Again, this is done to direct internet traffic to specific websites, that advertisers determined that the market for specific products tend to visit. Sounds like 1984, I know, but sometimes Big Brother IS out there... especially when he is looking for Big Money.

So if I tend to soujourn the internet around the pro-Israel crowd, and yet I wish to listen to the opposite side - I need to make a conscious decision to change the search string I use on the browser to get that opposite site which I rarely go to. The algoritms, in a way, define our ideological walls. They make sure we see what we like and agree with, so we keep coming back, we are happy, and willing to spend. This is also one of the reasons why many Internet giants like Facebook oppose the regulation of online news and the application to them of the same legal standards that apply to the printed or broadcast Media... regulation would cut into their profit by limiting the specific markets they can identify for their advertisers. A Sabra Hummus ad will probably not do very well on websites frequented by the BDS crowd and, conversely, Tahini from an Arab country might not do so well on a website frequented by Islamophobes. The more specific the market segment, the better defined it is, the better it fits with specific marketing techniques.

But we, as regular Internet Highway drivers, become trapped the algoritmic walls of our own choices, and impoverish our understanding by avoiding having our ideas challenged by the other side. Over time, we create our own "mental and ideological ghettos" by interacting only with those we agree with; and we also learn to immediately dismiss opposition as "crazy" or "bigotted" or any other name calling that fits the bill. We become insecure enough that only living within our own, self-defined walls, we feel confident.

But Democracy exists when we dare to listen to the other and not dismiss it offhand. When we pay attention to the oppossing argument and we dare to evaluate it in its own right. Without that dialogue, consensus becomes impossible. It is not unlike religious sects which isolate their members from the outside world so that the teachings of the sect would not be challenged by the ouside world. It happens even within our own communities when one organization is unwilling to work with another which holds different standards.

Moses knew that a confident people was a more formidable adversary. He also knew that for our ancestors to really own the land, they needed to learn to "live outside the walls".

It took our ancestors many centuries to leave the ghetto and learn to live as Jews in the wider society - many didn't make it, and they assimilated, converted and/or abandon the community. We are descendants of those who made it. Are we now going to forget their fight and create new mental ghettos? build new ideological walls? Weaken our commitment to the point that it is so frail that it cannot withstand the test of an argument?

What we do is our choice. We can cower behind the walls of our own self-defined comfort zone, or we can force ourselves to walk outside that comfort zone. What would Moses Do?



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