Is ‘difference’ the opposite of ‘indifference’?
Chapter 22 begins with two simple commandments aimed at creating a society in which people caring for one another is the rule, not the exception. It is a society in which a Kitty Genovese case, where a person can cry out for help and be ignored, should be inconceivable.
At the end of the chapter, in the case of the betrothed woman, we see that the basic assumption, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, is that she was raped. Therefore, if the case takes place in the fields, we don’t entertain the possibility that she consented, and she is judged to be faultless. If, however, it happened in the city, there is an absolute presumption that sex was consensual. Why? In the city, her cries of protest would be heard. What the Torah doesn’t consider is that she would cry out and be ignored.That’s simply not possible in the community that the Torah envisions.
Might the mysterious commandments of kilayim and shaatnez found in this chapter also be part of creating this society without indifference? Whatever their precise significance is, what is clearly conveyed by these mitzvot is the importance of recognizing, and not blurring, differences. The difference between plant and animal life must be honored, and within plant and animal life, different species must remain distinct. Why is this so important?
To care about something, we must think of it as special, unique in some way. To be indifferent is to be insensitive to difference, to be unbiased, not particular. While we cherish equality, we need to be sensitive to the way that value can have a flattening effect, making everything the same, erasing real differences. The way to create a society of caring may not be to see everyone as equals, but to see everyone as different and unique.
This blog breathlessly follows the daily study of Tanach with the wonderful, extermely challenging, extremely rewarding 929 project. The project’s website, 929.org.il, is chock full of wonderful insights on the daily chapter, but all in Hebrew. For the english speaking audience, this blog is my small contribution