Shabbat Talmud Study: Can You Handle the Truth?
Do you remember the scene in the classic A Few Good Men (1992) when, in the climactic courtroom confrontation, Jack Nicholson’s character says to Tom Cruise’s character: “You can’t handle the truth!”
Can we handle the truth? Here is the truth that is hard to handle. Many human beings are complicated amalgams of beauty and ugliness, of incredible talent and deep flaws. I was speaking with our teacher Micah Goodman about Louie C.K., Kevin Spacey, Dustin Hoffman, James Levine, and other artists whose art is now problematic, if not off limits, because of the personal sins of the artist. I said to Micah, “if you thought Louie C.K., were funny, would you still watch him?” He said (facetiously), “definitely not. And then I would stop reading psalms (written by David, an adulterer and a murderer). And then I would stop reading Kohelet and Proverbs (written by Solomon, whose heart was turned pagan by the many pagan women he brought into his palace).”
Micah’s point? The psalms we daven every morning were written by a deeply flawed human. The wisdom we consult was written by a deeply flawed human who could not follow his own wisdom. Flawed artists produce breathtaking art. The Jewish tradition gets this. But many of us struggle here. We might read David. We might read Solomon. But we are not watching Kevin Spacey. How should we think about this? If we were binge-watching videos to get though the storm, should House of Cards be off limits because of the immoral, repellant, cruel, and illegal conduct of its star, who also happens to be one of the great actors of his generation? How to balance this all?