“Man bites dog” is a journalism aphorism which suggests that what’s quotidian is not interesting; it’s the outliers that capture our attention. New York Sun editor John B. Bogart defined it this way: “When a dog bites a man, that is not news, because it happens so often. But if a man bites a dog, that is news.”
This phrase came to mind during Rabbi Jonathan Gross’ High Holiday series “Seven Deadly Sinners” at BMH-BJ. As scholar-in-residence, Gross led seven sessions exploring some of the most egregious tales of the Torah, including David’s behavior toward Uriah and Jacob’s deception of his father in securing the blessing of the firstborn.
Gross’ overall theme resonated with me: the Torah is not interested in reporting everything our forefathers did right. The Torah purposely delves into their mistakes so that we can learn from them and try to develop into better people. It may seem counterintuitive, but it’s actually difficult to learn from perfect people because perfection is unattainable. What we can learn is how to respond to our mistakes or to adversity.
An illustration of man bites dog: Gross mentions that in Omaha, where he served as rabbi, murders were so infrequent they made the news (not dissimilar to Denver). Now he lives in Baltimore, where murders are sadly so common they don’t necessarily get covered. Based purely on media reports, one might think Baltimore is the safe city while Omaha is crime-ridden.
The Torah’s stories of our forebears’ sins are the anomalies. That’s what makes them instructive; and that, according to Gross, is what makes the Torah holy — its desire to guide us to become better people.
Shana Goldberg may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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