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05/17/2020 12:05:12 AM


Jordan Hiller

The Agenda of Agita

Part II

Another week has gone by and, if you have been following the news, not much has changed. Oh, the numbers have improved in our part of the world – fewer cases, hospitalizations, and deaths – signaling a brighter short-term future. But you would not know that from your phone, radio, or TV. The media continues to confront us with all that is bleak, morbid, and – they’re favorite description – grim. So, the question we asked last time was why?

We left off considering the possibility that the media, much like the rabbinic sages who assembled our legal codes, were choosing to scare and depress us for our benefit. That the relentless pessimism was perhaps a calculated, but altruistic, strategy. One meant to program us to behave in a most beneficial way. 

To give the media that sort of credit I would need to assign them two qualities which I generally attribute to Chazal. That would be authority to act and transparency in action.

Whether you believe there are divergences in the chain of mesorah, or dislike its patriarchal nature, no one can argue that we – as a people – never gave Chazal the authority to a.) create halacha, b.) define halacha, and c.) enforce halacha. It is a power we (meaning, our parents and ancestors) vested in the rabbis to handle that aspect of our lives. We rely on them to instruct us with wisdom and we trust they won't let us down. Therefore, when a rabbi colors a lesson or a drasha in a certain way in order to engender a certain behavioral reaction from the congregation, we cannot reasonably argue, "Who are you to manipulate our behavior?" Because manipulating our behavior – for our own good – is and always was the point.

As for transparency, one might argue our sages gave us a way too much. If our halacha is the fully cooked, sizzling steak, what is the Gemara if not an open invitation to witness the grueling process from cow to plate? We have commentaries and super-commentaries. We have books of responsa consumed by the critical analysis of minutia. All translated into a language you can easily understand. It’s not always pretty, but there is nothing to hide.

Now, let's look at the media. 

The public has not elected Don Lemon, Rush Limbaugh, Tucker Carlson, or Joe Scarborough to office. Nor have they assumed a leadership position by blood, tradition, or right. In addition, we have no reason to believe that they want what is best for us. So despite the fact that we have given talking heads and credential-less journalists no overt authority over us, they have seemingly usurped it. How? Only because we have allowed them to. The masses – through a mania of monolithic groupthink – have made media personalities and faceless writers authoritative figures in our lives. The good news is, it is all just a mirage that crumbles like the not so great or powerful Wizard of Oz. That is, if you are willing to pull back the curtain. 

The bigger problem with today's media being agenda-driven is their glaring lack of transparency. As I mentioned in Part I: I don’t know why the news is predominantly focused on the agenda of agita, but I do know that they would never give open access to a production meeting. Whereas the Gemara is the ultimate internal-memo-file-dump, we have no such disclosure when it comes to CNN, Yahoo, FOX, or MSNBC. We can objectively conclude that that they are trying to scare us, but they would never dare tell us why. 

Which leaves us to speculate –as we are doing here. Because we know fear is good for business. We know doubts keep you scrolling and anxiety keeps you tuned in. We know provocative headlines and extreme positions stir controversy which brings comments, replies, and the ultimate prize - trending status. We know the news media is a business first with ad revenue and ratings as compelling factors. We know sponsors (and their political affiliations) are influential voices in the corporate headquarters. Finally, we know there is big money in telling people what they want to hear – even if that means scaring the kishkes out of them.

Where once we had Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel guiding us, now we have Click Bait.

As the weeks and months go by, there are many things that we do not have the capacity to change. The virus is real and deadly and it is here. At the same time, we are each independent, autonomous, and free-thinking individuals. What happens next has a lot to do with our elected officials, but it also has a lot to do with the information we receive, the way we receive it, and the manner in which we process it. From our homes, we rely on the news and media to provide vital information. This we need from them. The surplus is a disservice to the people and – until proven otherwise – only intended as a service to themselves. 


It was Shabbos HaGadol in Chelm – the Shabbos just before Purim. Rav Yankovic, also knows as the Al-ter Rebbe, was delivering his much anticipated drasha to the kehila. This was the first holiday in shul following the quarantine, which had lasted all of 254 days. No one knew why the lockdown was lifted since the CDC remained in their homes, but most presumed that after 253 days, the Mazhirim had simply given up.

"I know many of you are angry," the rabbi began, twirling his beard counterclockwise and then counter counterclockwise. "You have been stuck in your homes for the better part of the year. And because we did not change our password, we were Zoom-bombed over 133 times. I also know that many of you were not pleased with the Chelm News Network. I have heard from more than one person that CNN was throwing cold water on your emunah and wrapping your bitachon in a wet blanket. You were looking for hope and peace, and all you got was shpilkes.

It say in the first perek of the Megillah.

...אִם-עַל-הַמֶּלֶךְ טוֹב, יֵצֵא דְבַר-מַלְכוּת מִלְּפָנָיו, וְיִכָּתֵב בְּדָתֵי פָרַס-וּמָדַי, וְלֹא יַעֲבוֹר

We know that these men who were advising the king were not sincere men! We know they had an agenda! Although the Megillah does not say what it was, it is clear, and many of the meforshim describe, that they were telling the king what to do and how to feel, but not in his best interest, as was their duty! Rather, it was their own best interest prioritized! They were getting him agitated and nervous so he could not think straight. They had him doubting his own sanity. And so, he came to make a decision he regretted. 

I see in this a remez to our times. The Megillah even spells it out for us. Right in the middle of the pasuk! 


The interconnection of these words! The usual pey in פָּרַס-וּמָדַי is replaced by a fey! Fey-Resh-Samekh! Does that not spell FEARS?! And what are those fears so integrally connected to in the pasuk. A verse all about the hidden agenda of the advisors?!

That's right, my children. 



By: Jordan Hiller

Tue, March 5 2024 25 Adar I 5784