by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
"If the Anointed Priest shall sin, to the guilt of the people..." [4:3]
Many commentators question the connection. Each person, of course, is
liable for his or her own actions. How can it be, then, that the Torah
refers to a sin of the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest, as "to the guilt of
the people?" How are they to blame for his mistake?
Rabbi Dovid Feinstein finds the answer not in the action itself, but in the
environment surrounding it. We do not operate in a vacuum, and thus a
leader is a reflection of his followers.
If the High Priest sins, the people may follow. Each person can and may
say, "if he, our Holy Man, cannot control himself, how can I be expected to
do any better?" And from the opposite direction, if the people behave
poorly, then it is difficult for an individual to rise above them and to
perfect his or her ways.
One way or the other, "to the guilt of the people" is entirely appropriate.
Jewish sources not only here, but throughout the Talmud and commentaries,
reject the idea that we can somehow be exempt from what we see around us.
Yes, we are liable as individuals, but that liability begins with the
influences which we permit ourselves to see and hear. And this is true for
adults - children are still so much more a product of their environments.
I don't know if readers outside the U.S. are familiar with events in
Arkansas this week, but I would rather not discuss them here (the news is
still available on the web for those interested). Needless to say it was
another senseless tragedy, and those directly "responsible" smile from
their yearbook photos like any two normal children.
"Where did they get this from?" Guns have been around for a long time. Yet
all of a sudden a wave of tragedies has occurred. Shall we imagine to
ourselves that these were all simple coincidences? And shall we imagine
that all those children who did not do something similar, were also
completely unaffected by what they saw and heard?
That great social commentator, Bill Watterson (aka the writer of "Calvin
and Hobbes") produced a Sunday morning cartoon ((c) 1994) showing Calvin,
the six-year-old boy, sitting in front of a screaming television. Hobbes,
the toy tiger who speaks only to Calvin, stands behind the chair. And the
otherwise inert Calvin is sermonizing.
"I read another article whining about how much violence is on television.
So I've seen a few thousand homicides in my day. What's the big deal? It's
my right to watch violence on TV!... And frankly, I like watch shoot
outs, car wrecks, fist fights... I like to be entertained!"
At this point, Hobbes asks him, "Don't you worry that all this violence is
Calvin's response: "Nahh. I'd like to shoot the idiots who think this stuff
This attitude, so popular among TV executives and yet so rediculous, is
rejected by Jewish sources. But as we look at their self-inflicted
ignorance of human nature, let us not forget the lesson ourselves. We are,
each of us, responsible for influencing those around us, and conversely are
influenced if we do not exercise a great deal of adult self-control.
Let us work to be certain that we are positive influences, and work to
surround ourselves with positive influences - let us be a community that
grows! [And maybe, just maybe, cuts down on TV?]
Rabbi Yaakov Menken
About the Author