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The animals in men

Setting an example for all men, the biblical patriarch, takes steps to protect himself from...himself
Jacob's Dream by Adam Elsheimer (via Wikimedia Commons)
Jacob's Dream by Adam Elsheimer (via Wikimedia Commons)

When the present wave (it seems like a tsunami) of powerful and prominent men being outed as predators began, I confess that my initial reaction was one that bordered on glee. Watching arrogant hypocrites – across the spectrum, on the right and on the left, secular or religious – being unmasked, was almost fun.

Righteous indignation is not a difficult emotion to conjure up, especially if you’re a Rabbi. And if the focus of your outrage is towards people that you will likely never meet or interact with, hey it’s a no brainer – both the New York Times and Drudge are feeding you the same subjects for moralizing on. They just keep adding names, every day!

It’s easy to rail against the abusers. But in every one of these stories –  there are people who have been hurt, many of them deeply and sometimes permanently wounded. How is railing going to stop their hurt?

When Yakov-Jacob, the proto-typical yeshiva bochur, first leaves his father’s sacred home, the protective walls of Yeshiva, on his journey to marry, the Torah tells us a curious story.

Jacob, before laying down to sleep, covers his head with rock to protect himself from wild animals. He falls asleep and dreams of a ladder standing on earth with its head in heaven, angels ascending and descending and G-d blessing him and promising His protection. Jacob wakens, takes the rock and makes a vow, “if G-d is with me and I return intact to my father’s home, this rock will become G-d’s home”.

Why does Yakov point to that rock, the one that was his head’s protection from predatory wild animals, and declare it to be the future House of G-d?

I would suggest that the wild animals Torah is talking to us about, are not the ones that roam the forests and deserts, ‘tis the animal that is in men. All men.

Let’s be honest. The problem is not just with those we’re reading and talking about. For every one of the rich and powerful that are exposed there are certainly dozens more that haven’t yet been exposed. And there is nothing, nothing to suggest that this is a disease that afflicts only the one percent. On the contrary, there is a credible argument to be made that there is hardly a man alive that can look into the mirror and say me? – Never! Say something inappropriate? Invade a space I had no right to be in?  Not even thought about it? Really?

This is not about “boys will be boys”, “men just acting like men”. This is about animals being animals.

The difference between men and animals is that animals are motivated by pleasure; men – real men – are guided by values.. We define good by the values in our heads, not by the feelings in our bodies. It’s not enough that it feels good – it needs to be good.

That, of course, is far easier said than done. That animal is not somewhere else – it’s right here in each of us. Sure we have values and morals, but cerebral values, deeply held though they may be, have a really tough time standing up to a cunning, pleasure seeking animal, hell bent on getting pleasure. And in the process of getting that pleasure, oblivious though one might be, not only is one acting like an animal, far worse than that – I’m hurting, deeply hurting, someone else. Yet men continue to do that, again and again and again.

Yakov recognized that, that’s why he took rock to protect his head. You can’t reason with that animal, you can’t expect to tame an inherently wild animal, you can never let your guard down, you need a rock. A solid immutable, impenetrable protective barrier. Another word for it is law.

The Torah value is that her body is a sacred, inviolable space – hers alone. Torah law says don’t even touch her. Ever. (Unless she’s a close relative, and then there are more laws regulating that). The Torah value says personal intimacy is for marriage alone. Torah law says if you aren’t married you can not even be alone in a closed room together. Ever.

There is very little that is warm and fuzzy about rock, that’s what the absurdity of a pet rock is – rock isn’t cute. The same is true about law. It isn’t warm and fuzzy – it’s hard, cold and clearly defined That’s why we don’t enjoy having laws imposed on us. In this instance however, the alternative is incredibly worse.

But imagine if we, every man, would not just profess  those values but actually live by those laws. It would begin to truly transform our society, obviate the hurt and create a world that is truly worthy of being called a house of G-d. A warm, bright and beautiful home for every single human being.

You don’t agree? It’s not the case I’m making, it’s the case that’s screaming at us every day from the front pages of every newspaper and news website. It’s not about so and so’s depravation, it’s about the hard place each of us are in, and the rock(s) that can protect us.

About the Author
Yisrael Deren serves as Regional Director of Chabad Lubavitch in Connecticut and Senior Rabbi of Chabad of Stamford Born in Davenport Iowa and raised in Pittsburgh to a family of Chabad Lubavitch emissaries.
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