Vayikra I - MINDING YOUR BUSINESS
ONE OF THE MOST familiar American expressions is "Mind your own business." This is a phrase that newcomers to these shores learn almost immediately. Someone has observed that plastic surgery can do a great deal with human noses except keep them out of other people's business. bitter experience has taught us to avoid like the plague the meddlers and busybodies who offer free and unsolicited advice and nudge one to distraction with matters that are not their concern. So when an individual tries to interfere in our lives we say with resentment, "Now, why don't you mind your own business!" If neighbors with to have a cordial relationship with others in the community, if people desire to keep their friends, if in-laws want to be warmly received, they must learn to mind their own business.
There are areas in life, however, where it is wrong to be a neutral standby, and sometimes it is even criminal to let others do as they please. The Torah sites three situations where one is not permitted to remain silent with the excuse that he is minding his own business.
The first is mentioned in our sidrah. "And if anyone sin...if he does not testify, he shall bear his iniquity" (Levit. 5:1). When one sees injustice perpetrated, it is wrong to be mute. Those who are silent when witnessing evil, are helping to promote corruption and crime. People who refuse to testify against cheaters, muggers and thieves are aiding and abetting enemies of society. Nations who abstain at the United Nations when votes against Israel are taken, are as guilty as those who cast a negative vote.
That many are derelict in this crucial area is a tragic fact of modern life. Contractors claim that they have to include in their estimates the cost of bribes they have to give to inspectors of the Building Department. Otherwise, they say, they cannot stay in business. Instead of banding together and driving the crooked officials from government, many builders have become partners in crime and have brought demoralization and corruption into their industry.
The same is true of a number of American industrial giants. Lockeed and Boeing Corporations claim that unless bribes are offered to foreign officials they cannot sell their airplanes. A number of years ago when I had just learned to drive a car, I had an accident in which I was partially at fault. I had to report for a pretrial examination, and the attorney for my insurance company gave me instructions on what to say and what not to say. When I objected that what he wanted me to say was a lie, he looked at me as though I was out of my mind. Did I want my insurance rates to go up or be thrown into an insurance pool? When I completed my testimony that fellow was very unhappy. P.S. I was later rejected by the company and thrown into an insurance pool.
We tolerate the political spoils system and the fat "lulus" in government. Unscrupulous labor leaders are in control of unions and run them as if they were their own private businesses. Many racketeers would not have risen to such heights of power where it not for the laxity of the rank-and-file members whose attitude is, "Who cares?", and "I don't what to get involved."
"No!" says the Torah. "Justice, justice thou shalt pursue" (Deut. 48:20). Please note the word pursue. One must chase after it as a salesman pursues a prospective buyer. One must treat it as if it were one's private affair.
It was President Kennedy who said, "The deepest place in hell is reserved for those people who in time of moral crisis claim to be neutral."
Another instance when it is shameful to mind one's own business is when someone's life is in danger. Lo taamod al dam reacha. "Thou shall not stand idly by the blood of they neighbor" (Lev.19:16).
Several acts of indifference to the plight of others flash across the mind. We read about them in the newspapers and hear about them on radio and television. There is the Genovese case that has become a classic example of what callous and cruel indifference can do. at least 38 people was a young woman, in Queens, N.Y., beaten and stabbed, and not one of them raised a cry of alarm or called the police. and the woman was slowly butchered before 38 people who refused to be involved.
In Dayon, Ohio, a woman pleaded for help from the top of her car after it had plunged into the river. At least a dozen people heard her scream for help, but no one tried to rescue her; and she drowned only a few yards from shore.
This kind of indifference is displayed time and again in the subways of New York. Ruffians molest and beat up elderly people, while strong men either move to other cars or bury their heads in their newspapers. This isn't their affair and they don't want to get involved.
Pastor Neimoller, one of the great Protestant Church leaders of Germany who spent several years in a Nazi concentration camp, was honest enough to admit that in the early days there was a chance to stop the Nazis in their tracks. The trouble was that he and thousands of other liberals were shameful bystanders who did nothing but mind their own business.
Let me quote from his book. "In Germany the Nazis came first for the Communists, and I didn't speak up. I felt that since I wasn't a Communist it was no concern of mine. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up. I felt that since I wasn't a Jew, it was not my affair. Then they came for the labor leaders, and I didn't speak up. I felt that since I was not a labor leader or even a member of a union, it was none of my business. By the time they came for me because of my liberal views, it was too late. there was no one left to speak up."
This was characteristic of the indifference of the whole world which stood silently by as one-third of our people was tortured and destroyed. They were all afflicted with "moral laryngitis." The Pope refused to speak up because he had to mind the tremendous business of the Church. The vast holdings of the Catholic Church running into the billions would be jeopardized if he would intervene on behalf of the Jews. This attitude was shared by other world leaders. They simply didn't want to get involved, and they minded their own business.
Now that the State of Israel is in grave peril, the same story is being reenacted before our eyes. as Elei Wiesel has put it, "The Jewish Community has rarely been so united and never so alone." All know that there is a conspiracy on the part of Russian leaders to destroy the religious and cultural live of our brethren. Synagogues have been closed, religious articles are not available and even cemeteries for Jewish use are not permitted. The Jew is vilified in the media and is made the scapegoat for the failure of others. and millions throughout the world are silent bystanders to these evils of harassment and oppression.
Many of us are proud that young Jews are in the forefront of those fighting for equality on the American scene. Jewish students went to jail and risked their lives to help erase the blight of bigotry in our land. That is fine! But what about our own flesh and blood? Why are so many of them silent bystanders where our own people are concerned?
How different was Moses in his youth! When he beheld an Egyptian striking a Jew he came to his rescue. "And he struck the Egyptian" (Exod. 2:12). This biblical episode was not recorded in order to impress us with the physical prowess of Moses, but to indicate his concern with the problem of justice and his deep involvement with the plight of his people.
There is yet a third instance where the Torah condemns a mute bystander. "Thou shalt not receive a false report" (Exod. 23:1). This is a prohibition against listening to malicious and slanderous talk. those who speak falsehood and disseminate malice are condemned elsewhere in the Torah. This verse admonishes the listenerand brands him an accomplice to the crime. He who receives words of calumny is in the same position as the fence who buys stolen goods from the thief could not sell the stolen items, chances are that he wouldn't steal. and so it is with malice and slander. If the character assassin would have no audience, he wouldn't do his scandalous work. The listener cannot rationalize his wrongdoing with the excuse that he is minding his business in permitting the maligner to do as he pleases. No! says the Torah. "Thou shalt surely rebuke thy neighbor and reprimand our fellows. We are bidden to put the evil-doers and the muckrakers in their places. Otherwise we share their guilt.
Some of us are the sorry bystanders to those who malign and besmirch Jews and Judaism. when you hear someone say that Judaism is a religion of superstition, don't just stand there like a golem and keep your peace. Tell him that he is an am-haaretz--an ignoramus, for anyone who has even a superficial knowledge of Judaism knows that the Torah is vehemently opposed to superstition. Chances are that the fellow who leveled this slanderous charge against Judaism, knocks on wood for good lick, refuses to stay in a hotel room marked number 13, and would not be the third to light a cigarette on the same match--practices forbidden by Jewish law.
When you hear someone say that the synagogue is merely a business, don't let it pass. Protest against such calumny. It is your religion and your House of God that he is maligning.
When you hear someone say that Jews are sharp in business, don't stand there like a schlemiel and remain tight-lipped. It is your people that he is besmirching. sure, we have our share of corrupt individuals, but we are not the greatest culprits. The Bobby Bakers, the Billy Sol Estes and the Watergate crowd are not Jews.
Yes! It is the duty of every Jew to answer such scurrilous remarks from whatever quarter it comes.
"Am I my brother's keeper?" Cain asked at the dawn of human history. and by implication, the reply was, "Yes, you are."