Oxymorons and Echo Chambers

July 9, 2021

The oxymoron. The literary tool that juxtaposes two contradictory words for dramatic effect, is the open-secret, clearly-confused, growing-smaller, deafening-silence, of old news. Yet, it is also the Matot-Massei double portion of this week’s Torah reading. The oxymoron is a powerful signal that there is a lesson to be learned when these two separate readings are combined into one week’s singular parshah.

Matot, one of two “tree” metaphors used to describe the Tribes of Israel, is the inflexible, rod-like, “fixed-state” stick metaphor, versus the Shevat, which is the flexible branch, still affixed to the tree and “growing” metaphor. And then we have parashah Massei, which recounts the “journeys” the Hebrews traveled on their Exodus from Egypt to where they are currently stationed in their story… at the cusp of the Promised Land. This week we highlight the message of the static Matot combined with the dynamic Massei.

The power of the oxymoron is in the simplicity of pairing two opposing ideas that together enhance a single concept. It was while reading this week’s Torah text that I noticed the similarity in describing a healthy community, one that spans a broad range of ideas, which at either end seemingly contradict and even oppose one another.

Unfortunately, we are living in a time when understanding the diversity of the community, the gathering of differing ideas, the ability to hear the words of someone sharing an alternative perspective, or even just possessing the ability to agree to disagree is disappearing. We are surrounding ourselves in echo chambers denying the opportunity for alternative ideas to compete.

If there is one “clearly hidden” lesson to be learned from the combination of this week’s Torah portions it is that a dynamic community is made up of independent ideas. This is the foundational premise that the Jewish Federation of San Antonio believes and upon what it is dedicated to upholding. The Jewish Federation is the tent that shelters every Jewish agency and congregation in our community. It supports the collective voice that unites the many individual ones. The Jewish Federation acknowledges and respects the numerous independent ideas that together have helped us survive for almost 100 years as a united influence for good in San Antonio.

Having a variety of perspectives in building community is not only healthy but also critical. In fact, it is why David Ben Gurion worked tirelessly to build an inaugural government for the state of Israel that displayed the variety of its diverse citizenship. And it is this tension of opposites that gives the Israelis its Sabra nickname.  The fruit of the cactus with its prickly spines and tough outer skin surrounding its sweet and soft center.

We have much to learn from our biblical stories, and this week our parshah message is to push ourselves out of our dangerous comfort zone and listen to those with whom we do not necessarily agree. Not for the purpose of trying to convince someone else that they are wrong, rather, to simply hear what they think and agree that although we might see things differently, we share a common cause to continue to build community, not tear it apart. We truly are stronger together!

Thank you for your unique ideas, perspectives, and contributions to our San Antonio Jewish community. Without your feedback, our Jewish Federation could not be…

HERE for you.

HERE for our community.

HERE for our Future.


Shabbat shalom,