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  • Torah Reading: Naso
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Penn State Needed a Pinchas

Jul 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.

July 14, 2012

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Visitor Comments: 14

(12) elizabeth kosmerl, July 23, 2012 4:26 PM

let us all heed this message in Torah

Let us apply this zealousness to our own who betray our trust and the trust of our children. Let us not turn away because it is easier and by so doing help the victimizer. Let us prosecute to the fullest extent of the law the people who abuse the souls left in their charge.

(11) Rachel Garber, July 17, 2012 1:45 AM

Protecting the university, instead of the victim

As a former CPS (child protective services) worker, I followed this story with deep despair and sadness. To say nothing of anger. I can't believe that not only was this permitted to continue as long as it did, but when the story finally came out, and Joe Paterno was "let go" that the student body as well as alumni were incensed, that they wanted trustees removed. I just couldn't believe the comments about the victims, that seemed to be an aftethought. When Joe Paterno died while the investigation was ongoing, people said he died of a broken heart, what bull, what a travesty. Aside from the ongoing priest abuse drama, that was also covered up for decades, this has to be one of the most reprehensible stories of child abuse, that I have heard in a very long time. Sports Ilustrated and similiar magazine rushed to print special "tribute" issue for Paterno, I was so incensed, everytime I was in the magazine section in whichever store I was in, I took another magazine and covered up his picture.

(10) Anonymous, July 16, 2012 1:41 PM

Think About It

Having trouble making the analogy of Phineas stand for his G-d and his people and the Penn State situ. Hate that Penn State is forever marked by the act of an individual. Hate more for the precious children who suffered at the hand of that scallywag. One observation about people in my country is that their vision is for themselves and maybe a few others, but never think in terms of how everyone is affected by their actions. If Sandusky thought for a moment about the impact of his actions on the children, the University, our society, our nation, he could not have committed such crimes on innocent people, but he thought of one thing, his selfish lusts. The person walking by and seeing him in the act and simply reports to his upline is as quilty, as is his upline. Why. Because he wanted someone else to take the risks for doing the "right" thing. Paterno, I believe, knew about this problem, as I believe, they all did. We do a good job of living the life, but true character and integrity of heart are not there. Did we need a Phineas at Penn State? No doubt. More though, we need a righteous people who love and fear the one true G-d of Abraham, Issac and Jacob.

(9) Anonymous, July 16, 2012 3:51 AM


This is how people should live and it takes a lot of courage. Our society is the way it is because all of us collectively tolerate it. One person can do a lot to make this world a better place. Just one person can change everything.

(8) Anonymous, July 16, 2012 2:54 AM

No comparison between Paterno and Moshe

Although I greatly enjoy making connections between the going-ons in the world and the parsha, I think it is inappropriate to compare Moshe to Paterno. Yes Moshe may not have been able to tell Pinchas exactly what to do, but he was "a gadol shebigidolim" greater then great, and comparing him to Paterno who claims that he"did not know what to do", is in my opinion, wrong.

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