Torah: Something to live by /#metoo

Parashat V’zot Habracha 5779-2018

V’zot Habracha…FOOTNOTE: Footnote

This is the blessing that Moses the man of God pronounced for the Israelites before his death.3 Surely it is you who love the people; all the holy ones are in your hand. At your feet they all bow down,and from you they receive your instruction,4 the Torah Moshe commanded us as an inheritance for the community of Ya‘akov.

תּוֹרָ֥ה צִוָּה־לָ֖נוּ משֶׁ֑ה מֽוֹרָשָׁ֖ה קְהִלַּ֥ת יַֽעֲקֹֽב:

This is the Blessing….. The blessing is to be a recipient of Torah.

Now, being a recipient of Torah isn’t something that happens merely by being a Jew, or as a one-time event, when we become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. Embracing the blessing of Torah means a way of life, an approach to the world.

As we reach the end of our year-cycle of Torah reading we reflect on this legacy and what is this approach that Torah introduced to the world.

Torah is a revolutionary text. The book of Genesis, that we will start reading next week, is a perfect portrait of Torah’s human centrism elevated by divine aspirations. In other words, Torah brings us, humans, to the center of the creational narrative, grants human-kind the responsibility for the creation, and challenges us with the pursuit of a behavior that aspires to the recognition of God’s presence in every living creature.

Torah, and Genesis in particular, come to implement the profound, and very hard to internalize idea that humans aren’t objects but subjects.

In the book of Exodus we will learn that our experiences of being oppressed and being redeemed are a foundational stone in our ability to relate to otherness and to feel deep empathy and responsibility for those who are struggling.

In the book of Leviticus we say “Kedoshim tihu – קדושים תהיו” You Shall be sacred; we will learn that these ideas of human responsibility, love for humanity and empathy, should have a tangible expression in how we create our laws and social system.

In the book of Numbers we learn that the idea of human equality applies to all of us including our top leaders being justiciable, we are all accountable.

And Finally Deuteronomy remarks the importance of embracing reflection and self-rebuke as a practice that will help us make it to the promised land, which is symbolically represented by the land of Israel but refers to the lives we want to live and the society we want to create.

When thinking retrospectively about the last year and about the society we aspire to partner in, I can’t avoid thinking about this week’s headlines and about the importance of the #metoo movement.

The actor Bill Cosbi was just sentenced to 3 to 10 years in prison, and of course we are in the midst of a public discussion surrounding the nomination of Judge Kavanaugh due to the accusations made by Professor Christine Blasey Ford. Many of us are busy with the political implications of this case but I want to address the social layer of this situation, the part of thinking with Torah about whatever our society is dealing with. I want to think with you about the culture of sexual harassment, and of course, regardless of the outcome of this particular case.

In an article published by “The Times of Israel” Rabbi Aviva Richman explainsFOOTNOTE: Footnote:


“Deuteronomy differentiates between an illicit sex act that occurs in a public or private setting (22:23-26). In a town, a betrothed woman is considered complicit because she should have screamed out to stop the advance. In a field, she is considered innocent because even if she screamed out, it would have been to no avail — no one would have come to her rescue”…..

The rabbis take it to a deeper and more complex level:

“Could it be that she is complicit in a city and innocent in a field? The verse says “She cried out and nobody rescued her.” …If there is no one to rescue her, whether in the city or the field, she is innocent (Sifre 242:27).”

The Rabbis set clearly that the victim is always a victim but as Rabbi Richman explains, they interpret the scream not as a literal requirement from the victim, but as an indication of the critical role of a third part — the person who is supposed to hear the scream and intervene to prevent this act of violence.

Using the the parable of the field and the city we can understand that for years women have lived “in the field”, they have screamed and nobody has heard. Our generation has been gifted with the opportunity to transform the field into the city, to listen to their voices and to act! WE are the third party with the ability to hear and to stop sexual violence.

As we conclude and Restart the cycle of the study of Torah, may we listen carefully and repeat to our childrenFOOTNOTE: Footnote that our foundation is in the understanding that humans are divine creatures, that humans are subjects and not objects, that our story is about loving the stranger and redeeming the oppressed, that we aim to create a sacred society and that we are all accountable, our prophets, our priests and our Judges and finally that without the ability to reflect on our acts, rebuke and rectify we will never be able to leave the desert. May this year we embrace the magnitude of the B’racha – the blessing of having Torah in our lives, and renew the belief that we have the ability, the opportunity and the responsibility to make it to the promised land.

Shabbat Shalom and Moadim L’simcha

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