Tag Archives: drash

“Art thou jealous for my sake?” and Offense Kleptomania

When I put up my “Trolling for Topics” post a day or so ago, Rabbi Adar asked me to write about what part of the Torah is speaking to me right now. After some thought (and some searching through the Torah), I find in Numbers 11:27 – 11:29 this passage:

11:27 And there ran a young man, and told Moses, and said: “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.”

11:28 And Joshua the son of Nun, the minister of Moses from his youth up, answered and said: “My lord Moses, shut them in.”

11:29 And Moses said unto him: “Art thou jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put His spirit upon them!”

I find this three-verse section of Parshah Beha’alotkha to be meaningful on several different levels.

First: we have an unnamed tattletale, running to tell Moses: “Hey, these guys Eldad and Medad are usurping your authority as the prophet of our people!” Second, we have Joshua the son of Nun taking this kid at his word and saying to Moses: “Yeah, you should shut them up and make them stop. Who do they think they are?”

And then we have Moses looking at Joshua like he’s grown a second head (work with me here, I’m envisioning this scene) and saying: “What, I should stop them from doing something that indicates they have G-d’s favor?”

I would think for most people, that’s the point of this passage: Moses saying “Hey, I wish all the people were prophets.” He’s pointing out that in this very rule-bound culture, this rule that the tattletale and Joshua think is being broken isn’t a rule that actually exists (much to the tattletale’s and Joshua’s chagrin, I’m sure). I can also envision him wishing that all the people being prophets were the case, if only to take some of the workload and distribute it around a bit.

But there’s one little line that I’m not sure many people notice, and that’s this one:

“Art thou jealous for my sake?”

Let’s look just at this part of this passage. Joshua’s concern seems to be “They’re usurping your place, Moses.” But by saying that, HE is usurping Moses’ place in an entirely different way, by being personally offended that anyone would dare do something that he would find offensive if he were Moses (or so Joshua apparently believes). He’s basically being offended for Moses, and by extension telling Moses “this is something you should be offended about,” instead of allowing Moses to decide whether or not he wants to be or needs to be offended about this. And Moses, bless him, calls him on it. “What, you think I can’t handle this? You think I need you to be angry on my behalf? You think I’m not capable of figuring out whether or not I need to be offended about this? You think I need you to speak for me?”

This very small part of this Torah passage speaks to me because I am, among many things, a social activist. In the not so far-off past, I have been known to do something which I have since labeled “offense kleptomania:” I find out that [insert minority that I’m not part of] has [trouble that I think I have the answer to], and I get outraged.

The problem is, many times, offense kleptomaniacs then get up on their soapboxes and start telling the people who are actually experiencing the trouble what they should do about it. Or, they claim to speak for the people who are experiencing the trouble, instead of allowing those folks to speak for themselves. In essence, offense kleptomaniacs try to take away both the autonomy and the voice of the people who are actually experiencing the problem – and many times do not even realize that that’s what they’re doing.

Now, being outraged by a trouble that someone who isn’t part of my group is suffering? That’s fine. That’s empathy. I would hope that non-Jews find the Holocaust just as horrifying as Jews do. I would hope that whites look at the situation that blacks often live in, in the ghettos, and are outraged by it. But the moment I move from being outraged about it to telling that person what to do about it, or speaking on their behalf without letting them speak for themselves? That’s over the line. That’s making an ass of myself. That’s offense kleptomania.

Now, offense kleptomaniacs often claim that they’re being allies with the oppressed or troubled person or group. It sounds great on the surface, but it doesn’t work so well when you look at it from the oppressed person’s point of view. There’s a difference between being an ally and being an overbearing git. One great example of this is what’s called “mansplaining,” when a man tells a woman (or a group of women) what they’re doing wrong and how they should change it in order to make the problem of sexism or misogyny go away, instead of hearing what the women are saying about the problem (and his role in it). I am thinking of the current #YesAllWomen firestorm that’s going on right now. As an ally, I can and should talk to other men, and tell them to quit derailing the conversation or redirecting it back to their own hurt feelings – to quit mansplaining. That’s me, as a member of the oppressing group, actively pushing away the ability to oppress and calling out anyone else who’s doing it. But as an ally, I do not get to tell women what they have to do, or how they have to do it, or why they have to do it. That’s not my place. It is not okay for me to be an offense kleptomaniac and say “Hey, when men treat women badly, that really offends me just like if I was a woman, so women, do this and this and that to fix it! Also, I’ll be a spokesman for women so that they don’t have to trouble their pretty little heads about it!” (I call this White Knight syndrome.)

Um, no. As a man, I do not have the right to be offended in this way. Women do. I can and should be offended that men make women anxious, nervous, scared, and uncomfortable, and I can and should call men out on it whenever they try to derail the conversation or mansplain. But the moment I say that women shouldn’t be afraid of ME because I’m not like that, or that it’s bigoted for them to assume a man does not have their best interests at heart? The moment I say that I’ll rescue women from this and solve all their problems for them? I’ve crossed the line. If I tell women to dress or act any differently, I’ve crossed the line. I’m being an offense kleptomaniac and usurping their right to be empowered decision-makers that have control over their own lives.

Another example of offense kleptomania are all these people who are not autistic (and often have no autistic people in their lives) who want to “raise autism awareness” and “find a cure.” If you talk to most adult autistics, we don’t want a cure. We just want to be supported so that we can live as normal a life as possible. But do you see any adult autistics on the board of any of these “Autism Crisis” groups? Not bloody likely. That’s why one of my mottoes is that Autism Speaks does not speak for me – even though they keep trying to speak over me, and keep trying to silence me and other neurodiversity advocates. They’re offense kleptomaniacs, plain and simple. They didn’t just cross the line; they left it way, way behind them and they probably don’t even know it’s there.

Joshua, too, crossed the line. Joshua was an offense kleptomaniac in this passage. You see, Joshua had no right to be jealous (offended) that Moses’ authority was supposedly being usurped by these two guys prophesying. Notice, too, that Joshua answered our unnamed tattletale for Moses, instead of letting Moses speak for himself, by demanding that Moses “do something” about the perceived problem. That was Moses’ decision, not Joshua’s, and Moses called him on it.

Now, we don’t get to know what Joshua’s reaction was to being called on it, but I do wonder. Did he try to mansplain to Moses why Joshua had every right to demand that Moses do something about this perceived problem? Did he listen and say “Okay, I’m sorry, I was over the line?” We don’t know. From his reaction, though, it sure looks like Joshua was offended because the authority figure he respected was being challenged, and he wasn’t good with that.

Notice, too, that Joshua made a mountain out of a molehill here. Instead of taking Moses’ big-picture view – wouldn’t it be great if G-d spoke directly to ALL the people? – he took a narrow view: A rule is being broken and that’s not okay (even though, as it turns out, there was no rule being broken). G-d calls us to look beyond our narrow view every time he commands us to welcome the stranger, doesn’t he? The narrow view is not Jewish. It’s human, certainly, but we’re expected to rise above that.

So in this short passage, G-d is calling on us to do several things:

1. You can be offended because something offensive is happening, but you cannot insert yourself into a situation where you have no place. Joshua did that (as did our unnamed tattletale) and Moses, fortunately, called them out on it and said “Not cool, guys.”

2. You can be offended because something offensive is happening, but unless you’re actually the target of the offensive thing, you may not speak for those who actually are offended. You may not take away their voice or their autonomy.

3. Take the broader view. Is this actually offensive, or are you making it bigger than it needs to be? What’s more important – rules, or human beings? Social standards, or people? Take a breath, chill out, and consider before you fly off the handle and make things worse.

Yeah. That’s what I have to say about that.



Filed under Drashot, Judaism

Special Edition Drash: The Gratitude You Don’t Want To Offer

One of the things that friends of mine will probably find disturbing about my conversion – even though I’m converting Reform – is that many of the Hebrew scriptures can be seen as outdated, sexist, racist, etc. But in light of the shootings this weekend, an Orthodox friend of mine linked to this article on two verses of the male morning prayers and what they should mean today, and I think it’s worth a read. 

The Gratitude You Don’t Want To Offer

And here’s the kicker quote:

These blessings are problematic on their face because they imply that there are classes of people somehow “less than” the assumed default, namely, the free male generally reciting them. In fact, though, these blessings do accurately represent life. If they disturb us, it is not because they are a vestige of an older, less moral world; it is because they are still true. They are a daily reminder of the privileged life that so many people enjoy, not because of what they have accomplished, but by the accident of birth. As we recite them, our job is to appreciate these very real societal fault lines, offer gratitude for winning the genetic lottery, and then feel the imperative for meaningful action to address the injustices they reflect.

I approve wholeheartedly of this man’s introspection on what these verses could mean.

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Wrestling Match #6: The Verses That Won’t Let People Live

15 Iyyar 5774

Please excuse any typos I don’t catch in this post, and probably the next few that will follow it. I sprained my wrist quite badly yesterday, and I am on doctor’s orders not to use my right hand for anything including typing and writing. Since I’m a professional academic who does a lot of typing and writing, this is a very frustrating situation for me. I am using a dictation program that really likes to insert random capitals and incorrect words, as well as putting ‘s after just about everything that should be a plural. This means I’m still doing a lot of left-handed correction by hunting and pecking on the keyboard.

So this won’t be a long post. But it occurs to me that as a queer man, there are some verses and texts in the Torah that won’t let people like me live. So this begs the question: why would I convert to a religion that has those verses in its scriptures?

The best answer that I’ve found so far has two main points: first, Reform Judaism leaves it up to the individual person which mitzvot they will follow. But that seems like too easy of a solution, doesn’t it? This also seems to be one of the Orthodox community’s biggest gripes about non-Orthodox Jewish traditions: if you can pick and choose, then what’s the point?

For me, part of this first point is that Judaism is not just about following every single rule to the letter. It’s also about walking with G-d. It’s also about how you treat your fellow human beings. It’s also about cultivating a sense of reverence and thankfulness. It’s also about mindfulness. If being Jewish were just about following the rules, then I would not be drawn to it.

But the second point, to me, is equally important, and that is this: part of our job as Jews is to interact with the Torah, and part of the interaction is interpretation and re-interpretation of what those texts or verses mean in today’s world. The best discussion of this issue that I have yet found is this drash from Rabbi Rachel Adler, Ph.D., at Beth Chayim Chasadim in Los Angeles, so I share it for you here:

Today, with my hand in the condition it’s in, this is what I can offer you. Rabbi Adler does a much more successful job of wrestling with this particular question that I could do on my own.

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Filed under Conversion Process, Drashot, Judaism, Wrestling Matches

Wrestling Match #1: Orthodoxy and Self-Definition as a Jew

When our Yiddishkeit is called into question, what can we say to the questioner? I attempt to answer that question.

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Filed under Conversion Process, Drashot, Identities, Judaism, Wrestling Matches