How many Jewish zookeepers do you know? Now ask yourself how many Jewish lawyers, doctors, and “finance pros” you know?
It seems if one follows the Bible carefully, that Shepherding and animal husbandry is the true Jewish calling. Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Yosef (and his brothers), Moshe, David-were all Shepherds! And as we will read tomorrow, the man the Torah first calls a “Tzaddik”-the righteous one, is Noach-the “Father of all Zookeepers”! What is it about care for the animal world that appears to be a major criteria in Jewish leadership?
Perhaps the answer lies in this simple idea: It takes a human, man or woman, to shepherd, protect and care for animals. A real leader of people knows what the greatest demonstration of what it means to NOT be an animal is-to care for all of Hashem’s creatures-big or small. What better actualization of this idea than by our future leaders developing, demonstrating and living a life of care and concern for others, and particularly of others who may be of less fortunate circumstance or position-by reflecting this very idea in their earthly “job” and training ground-as students of Noach.
While this idea may be somewhat esoteric, let me bring it down to earth. In a positive way, I have been asked what I can offer from the Torah to provide some insight and/or commentary to the “Weinstein” saga that is enveloping so much of us here in tinsel town. In a negative way, I have seen ugly (and yes, anti-Semitic) assertions that the allegations surrounding the saga reflect not a horrific aspect of general humanity, but represent a uniquely Jewish form of degeneracy. In response, and viewing any lesson from our Holy Torah as dispositive of the Jewish view and perspective, I can unequivocally state that a culture of harassment, abuse, and misogyny is decidedly non-Jewish in its very essence-the opposite of what a culture of Torah represents. Allow me to use this very week’s Parasha of Noach to elaborate:
We all know that the great Flood-and destruction of the world occurred because “The earth had become corrupt before G-d…for all flesh had corrupted is way upon earth” (Genesis/Braishis 6:11-6:12). Our Rabbis depict every form of sexual depravity practiced regularly by “pre-floodean” society . With all this corruptness and depravity however, Rashi cites the Talmud (Sanhedrin 108a) which comments on the words “the earth had become filled with robbery” (ibid, 6:12) to reveal an incredible fact: “Their decree (fate) was sealed on account of their ROBBERY”-“Lo Nechtam Gezar Dinam Ela Al Hagezel”.
In other words, say our Rabbis: While sexual immorality and depravity of every kind was rampant, the final decision that society as it was no longer had hope and had to be aborted and wiped out was because of the complete lack of respect for others; their property, possessions, and yes, bodies ((see Genesis 6:2 and Rashi’s commentary noting that rape and sexual abuse of every kind – really a highest form of robbery and degrading of another’s being– was the rule of the day). Imagine that: the most backwardly degenerate society one can imagine is taken down not because of its despicably degenerate behavior but for its people’s lack of regard for the integrity of others in every shape and form!
That is the Jewish lesson. Our leaders must maintain of course, the highest caliber of morality -but none of that stands up against the sole arbiter of what defines a truly developed human: one who at all times lives with the ideal that consideration, care and respect for others -whatever level of society or creation the “other” is on-is the highest form of character refinement. That level of refinement is shown most of course, when the respect and concern for others goes not only to perceived peers or “to those higher on the totem pole”, but to those that are, or are perceived to be on some “lesser rung” of life. Abuse of power and position is precisely what the Hashem “flooded out” in this week’s portion.
It is perhaps now clear why our greatest leaders all excelled at leading not only their brethren-but all of G-d’s creation, down to the sheep, goats and cattle of our forebears, and why I can loudly assert that misogyny, sexual abuse in any form, and derisive behavior toward any human being has zero connection to the Jewish Weltenschaung.
So friends, instead of taking your out-of-towners to Disneyland next time they’re here-join me on a trip to the L.A. Zoo-i’ll throw in lunch (I make a great Shepherd’s pie).
Wishing all a Shabbos of filled with Peace and harmony with All creation.