Friday, March 19, 2010

Vayikra—House Rules

Historians often grant certain eras chronological labels that often lie outside said eras actual chronology: e.g., the twentieth century is theorized to have begun with the onset of World War I and have ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall; or, that the “Sixties” actually began with the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution of August 1964 and ended with Watergate. In a certain sense [leHavdil], Sefer Vayikra can be determined to truly begin with Parshas Teruma, where construction of the Mishkan—the first incarnation of “G-d's House”—is begun, and could almost be said to end in Parshas Acharei Mos, Chapter 18, where the halachic inclination of the Biblical text starts to move away from its almost heretofore exclusive focus on korbanos and other “kodashim”.

It is also this stretch of Chumash that, aside from being the more difficult and involved stretch inside, is also the least taught, at least in most conventional chinuch circles. As I discussed in Vayikra-Tzav: Cleanup, this is midly ironic, being that the first five pesukim in this week's parsha are, according to some strands of tradition, supposed to be the first ones to be taught. Expanding on the more particular “teachable moment” I illustrated then [to “use spiritual endeavors [] to illustrate the idea of why stealing is wrong”], one can generalize this notion, in a certain sense, to the idea about how to get one’s house in order before putting it to its appropriate use. Indeed, it might make sense that Ki Sisa interrupts between Teruma/Tetzaveh and Vayakhel/Pekudei: it took more than one shot to get it right [actual “mukdam/me-uchar” notwithstanding.]

Unfortunately, once again I have to digress into an inyan I’ve discussed repeatedly here [Re'eh--Dry Cleaning; Ki Savo--Child Predators: Makah Be-seser] that just doesn’t seem to go away.

It’s been posited that one of the reasons that moderns can’t relate to animal sacrifice—the linchpin of Sefer Vayikra—is that the ability to perceive its importance was dulled when the Anshei Knesses ha-Gedola slaughtered the Yetzer Hara of idolatry; there was a concomitant dulling of spiritual sensibilities [see Yoma 69b]. However, recent news indicates that there is still a lion in the mikdash, as it were. Right in Jerusalem.

Maybe there is a true, ironclad halachic due process for the trial and removal of predators in chinuch. However, what has emanated from the crisis of a prominent Jerusalem Rosh ha-Yeshiva who was exiled to the northern reaches of Israel rather than disciplined indicates that the emphasis is still on the “process” rather than the removal of potential harm to talmidim.

Also, while the recent treatment of the issue by Rabbi Nathan Lopez-Cardozo was somewhat closer to the mark, I have to disagree with one of his assertions: “should we now believe that all of Rabbi Elon's teachings were hypocritical and must be banned? Definitely not.” If allegations of misconduct can be proven, any offending educator’s entire derech and life work gets SHOULD get called into question: there is no way to elevate one’s students while inflicting this kind of harm on them at the same time. When a chillul shamayim beseser is nigleh like this, everything has to be reassessed.

I am usually loath to ever give credence to those to who would say that “because of X, Y happened”, as we have seen with certain declarations vis-à-vis the Haiti earthquakes; this is an unfortunate practice that should probably be left in the repertoire of minhagei American Fundamentalist religious right. However, I might be less prejudiced to an equivalent declaration to the effect that the inability and/or unwillingness to slay the contemporary “lion in the mikdash” correlates to any Jersualem crises. In any case, the impulse for clerical self-preservation will prevent such a thing from ever happening.

In anyone going to get this house in order?

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