Temple Beth Torah

#ME TOO

One of the remarkable events this past year has been the rise of the #Me Too movement.  We’ve been stunned to see scores of prominent men accused of rape and sexual assault and harassment-  Producer Harvey Weinstein, Comedian Bill Cosby, Talk show hosts Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose,  Dr Larry Nassar, actors Jeffrey Tambor and Kevin Spacey,  Maestro James Levine.

Sadly, the list goes on and on.

One question many people- mostly men- had was:  Why didn’t these women speak up at the time of the incident?  One of the things men have learned this past year is the fear and the shame and the powerlessness that women have long felt.

Another question often asked- even if unspoken- is: Didn’t anyone else know what was going on?  And if they did, why were these men protected?  Why did people look the other way?  We’ve learned that sometimes, the “boys-club” protects their own, and sometimes it’s just too hard to be a whistle blower and suffer the consequences of taking the moral, but difficult stand.

But I have another question- maybe one only a Rabbi would ask:  Why did God make us the way He did?  What’s going with men that makes them behave this way?  And was this part of God’s plan?

I imagine the sixth day of Creation.  God cast a deep sleep over Adam and he has just formed Eve out of his rib.  The sun was beginning to set and God was in a hurry to get all His work done before He had to light Shabbes candles.  He looked over the world He had created in six hectic days.  “Pretty good!” He said to himself.

As Adam and Eve began to stir, God thought about what He needed to tell them.  “Take care of the Earth.”   “Don’t eat from that one tree over there.”  And “Be fertile and increase.”  But this last instruction worried God.  He had designed an ingenious system:  Sexual organs.  Sperm and egg.  Fertilization.  Embryo. Fetus.  Umbilical cord. Nine months gestation.  Contractions, labor, birth.  But there was one detail that God was not so sure about. How to foster human reproduction so that it was different from the copulation of animals?  How to insure that sex between a man and a woman would be an emotional, as well as a physiological act?  “I don’t want Adam to be like a dog in heat driven by forces beyond his control to pounce on and relieve himself with any available female.  I want something that not only results in reproduction, but binds two people together in a partnership of love and affection.  Making sexual attraction too strong- and the man and woman would do nothing else but mate.  Making it too weak, and reproduction might never occur.  How to find just the right balance?”

The sun began to set.  Shortly it would be Shabbes.  No more work or tinkering permitted.  God took out his tool box and his screw driver and made a last second adjustment to the male sex drive, and thena corresponding re-calibration to the female libido.  But before God could check his work, the sun dipped below the horizon, and the first star appeared in the firmament.  “Shabbat Shalom!” He wished Adam and Eve.  “I hope this works as I planned” God thought to Himself…

The Book of Genesis is evidence of how God did…

Three stories show that God was pretty successful:

In Chapter two, when God brings Eve to Adam, the man says of her:

“This one, at last, is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh...”  Hence a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, so that they become one flesh.”

Later on, in Chapter Twenty-four, we learn how Abraham’s servant found a wife for Isaac.“Isaac then brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he took Rebekah as his wife.  Isaac loved her, and thus found comfort after his mother’s death”

And then, a generation later, their son Jacob meets Rachel at the well and falls for her.  As a bride price, he agrees to work for her father Laban.  Chapter Twenty-nine recounts:“So Jacob served seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her.”

Three stories of ideal love, and perfect harmony between man and woman.  Nicely done, God!

However, the rest of Genesis is filled with accounts of men behaving badly.

In Chapter nine, Noah emerged from the ark with his family, planted a vineyard and immediately got drunk.  His son Ham discovered his father, passed out and naked.  Then something happened that was so terrible, that the Torah only hints at it.  According to Rabbinic interpretation, Ham- or his son Canaan- sodomized or castrated Noah.

In Chapter twelve, Abraham and Sara went down to Egypt because of a famine.  Abraham told his wife:  “When we get there, say I’m your brother, not your husband.  Otherwise, the Egyptians will have me killed in order to get to you.”  And, indeed, the Pharaoh is so taken with Sara’s beauty that hebought her from her “brother” and took Sara into his harem.

Chapter Nineteen- Two angels came to Sodom and Gomorah to warn Lot to flee before the cities are destroyed.  When the townspeople learned that Lot had guests, they gathered outside his door and demanded that the foreigners be handed over to them.  Their intention was to gang rape the strangers- not because the people of Sodom and Gomorah were homosexual, but because this was the ultimate way of humiliating and degrading a man.

In the very same chapter, after the twin cities have been destroyed and Lot’s wife had been turnedinto a pillar of salt, Lot’s two daughters- thinking they are the last three people alive on the planet- got their father drunk and took turns sleeping with him in order to continue the human race.  Lot doesn’t resist.

In Chapter thirty-four, when Jacob and his children moved into Canaan, a local man, Shechem spotted Jacob’s daughter Dinah and kidnapped and raped her, and held her hostage.

Reuven, eldest of Jacob’s sons, decided in Chapter thirty-five that he was ready to take over from his Father; to establish his claim as head of the family, he slept with his father’s wife, Bilhah- Reuven’s own step-mother.

Judah, Jacob’s fourth son, had sex with his widowed daughter-in-law Tamar in chapter thirty eight, who had disguised herself as a prostitute in order to get him to impregnate her.

The Midrash- Rabbinic stories from the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd centuries about the Torah- asks my question:  Why did God make us the way He did?  Not only with our sexual impulses, but with our competitive nature, and our need for ego gratification, and our selfish inclination, and our love of material things.  Is this the best God could do?  Apparently, those last minute adjustments by God on Day Six didn’t work out as hoped.

Rabbi Shmuel Bar Nahmani offers this explanation of God’s handiwork:  Were it not for this side of us, a man would not build a house, or take a wife, or beget children, or engage in commerce.  Yes, God could have made us without all the messiness that goes along with being man and woman.  But then we wouldn’t have been human beings, with free will.  We would have been robots.

Human nature is sometimes out of control and this can lead to terrible things.  So what are we supposed to do?  What does God expect of us?

We may find the answer in another story in the Book of Genesis- that of Joseph.  You’ll remember That Joseph was sold by his brothers into slavery, and was bought by Potiphar in Egypt.  Just 17 at the time, Joseph was given more and more responsibility in his master’s household.  And then one day, when Potiphar was out, the mistress of the house tried to seduce Joseph.  Joseph refused her advances. 

There’s a wonderful exchange in the Midrash where a Roman matron asks the Rabbis: “Do you expect me to believe that a healthy young man with raging hormones is going to say “No” in such a situation?”  The Rabbis offer various explanations why Joseph did what he did:  *At the crucial moment, he saw his father’s face before him.  We can imagine Jacob telling Joseph:  “This is not how I brought you up.  Don’t make me ashamed of you…”*OR:   Joseph thought, This would be a sin before God.  Is the momentary pleasure worth whatever punishment God would mete out to me? *OR:  Maybe Joseph was just loyal to his master, and couldn’t betray the man who had been so good to him…

Whatever the motivation, the Torah tells us “Va-Yih-ma-en”:  He refused.  And because of that moment of resolve, and self-control, Joseph was given the title “Yosef HaTzadik”- Joseph the Righteous.

But here’s something you should know:  The trop mark- the musical note- for the word  ”VaYih-ma-en” is a Shalshelet, a rare note that appears only four times in the whole Torah.  The word, as sung, sounds like this:
VA-YIH-MA-EN

The word says “He refused”, but the music says “No.  Yes.  Maybe.  I don’t know.  And then finally: No!”  And that’s the message of the story of Joseph to all of us who find ourselves in his shoes- when we are faced with temptations of any kind- be they sexual, or dietary, or financial, or ethical: Despite the difficulty, we know what the right thing is.  Just do it.

Maybe God screwed up at Creation; or maybe God made us this way on purpose.  Whatever the answer, God also gave us the ability to control our impulses, and to say “No” when we should.  That’s the difficulty and the responsibility- of being human.

Perhaps that’s why we are told to fast on this day.  I’m hungry.  I want to eat.  My stomach is growling, my head is beginning to ache, I feel weak- and yet,  I have to tell myself: “No!”  Just like Joseph did.   The ethical take-away of the #MeToo movement is this:  We’re in charge; not our hormones. Behave as your boss, or your parents, or your God would expect you to.

A very critical lesson for all of us to remember on Yom Kippur- and every other day of the year.