Penn State Needed a PinchasJul 14, 2012 at 03:28:12 PM
My dear friend Harve Linder in Atlanta has done it again: found a deep Torah message in the headline news. The definitive Penn State investigation report was released just as we were reading the Torah portion of Pinchas, creating an amazing juxtaposition.
Recall the scene: A young graduate student walks in and sees an unspeakable incident taking place. What action does he take? Does he shout at the aggressor to stop it? Does he run out seeking help? Does he call either campus or local law enforcement officials? The answer to all these questions is "no."
Instead, he seeks out his leader, the head coach. But the coach himself doesn't know what to do. So nothing comes of it, and no one involved does the right thing for the victim, for future victims, for the university. The end result is that the abuse continues, people lose their jobs, others will go to prison, the university is harmed, and an extraordinary legacy forfeited.
Let's compare this to events in the Torah. An audacious sex crime has taken place, and a young man, Pinchas, witnesses the incident. He is incensed and knows the appropriate response. Yet before acting, he goes to the leader Moses for guidance. But Moses himself does not know what to do. And here our tales substantially diverge: Pinchas does not wait around for an investigation. He does not allow a conspiracy of silence to blanket the incident. No, he acts swiftly, precisely, and in accordance with the law. He stops the act, sends a clear public message, and ensures there are no future victims.
This is not to suggest that the Penn State graduate student should have become a vigilante, circumventing the courts. But he did lack Pinchas' passion and total commitment to doing the right thing. A bit of righteous indignation would have been well-placed, propelling him to cut through the layers of bureaucracy and malaise.
The Torah instructs us to act whenever danger is present: "Do not stand idly by your brother's blood" (Leviticus 19:16). We cannot wait for political posturing, for committee debates, or approval from public opinion. We cannot allow cover-ups and conspiracies of silence to develop. We must consistently do the right thing. Sometimes the proper action is not obvious. Even Moses occasionally forgot. But we have to learn the parameters, consult with our leaders, and act with confidence and determination. Only then will we fulfill our role of tikkun olam, and ensure there are no future victims.