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Permission to Protect

Naso (Numbers 4:21-7:89 )

by Rabbi Boruch Leff

What you see is what you get.

Have you ever met permissive parents -- the ones that worship the concept of "openness" so much that they don't mind exposing their kids to just about anything? "After all", they claim, "We teach our kids proper values, it doesn't really matter what the kids see or hear. Kids should be allowed to look into 'the real world' so they don't become naive. They'll simply reject foreign ideas antithetical to proper values."

Are these parents correct? Of course, not. A Rashi in this week's Torah portion, Nasso, tells us why.

"Why was the section of the nazarite laws placed next to the laws of sotah, the suspected adulterous wife? To tell us that anyone who sees the sotah in her disgrace, should abstain from wine(one of the nazarite laws), since wine leads to adultery." (Rashi, Bamidbar 6:2)

The common question on this Rashi is that we would have thought the opposite. Wouldn't someone who sees a sinner, like the sotah, being humiliated, become inspired to not dare come close to transgression? If you saw your co-worker being yelled at for coming late, wouldn't you be extra careful not to come late yourself? So why does the Torah suggest that witnessing the sotah's embarrassment will make you more afraid that you'll sin? Why would one establish safeguards to avoid sin by refraining from wine, once he has seen a violation of the Torah in the sotah woman?

The answer is that our preconceived notion is not true. In reality, witnessing sin, no matter if we see the sinner being degraded or not, weakens our spirituality. Whenever someone "breaks the rules" in school, inevitably the rules become less hallowed and it's only a matter of time until "breaking the rules" becomes the rule. So too with the Torah. While God's "rules" and mitzvot will never cease, witnessing a breach in them automatically removes levels of respect and awe that we have for His commandments. We subconsciously feel that the transgression is no longer an untouchable and although we may never dream of doing it, it becomes a possibility. Once the slippery slope of possibility has been opened, terrible results will inevitably occur.

This is why Rabbi Moshe Feinstein writes (Igrot Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:156) that just as it is a mitzvah to see and be involved in a mitzvah, so too it is a transgression to witness a transgression being performed where one can avoid it. By watching a violation of God's Torah, he writes, you are watching God being humiliated and disrespected. And this negatively affects your own service of God because, on some level, you lose respect for God as well.

So the nazir decides to enter the institution of the nazarite vows because he has seen the sinning sotah. He realizes that he temporarily needs special laws of holiness in order to return to his former state of awe for God's laws and commandments which have been breached.

Environment and nurture play vital roles in human development. There is no way of denying this fact. As Maimonides states (paraphrased): "It is the way of humankind to be drawn after the manners and actions of friends and countrymen. Therefore, one should connect with and befriend righteous people in order to learn from their ways and to distance oneself from wicked people." Maimonides uncharacteristically does not bring a source from a verse in the Torah as a proof. It is a simple fact of life.

What is not widely realized though is that anything and everything we see and experience becomes part of our nature. If we allow our kids to watch television and movies without any restraints, we open them up to potentially harmful influences. As Nicholas Johnson, former commissioner of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, once said, "All television is educational. The question is what does it teach?"

It is clear that the high increase among children of sexual promiscuousness and activity, violence and guns in schools, and the trend of reduced achievement and intelligence have its roots in the effects of television and movies. (See Lawrence Keleman's 'To Kindle a Soul' for detailed scientific studies and research.)

So much for openness in parenting. It is an experiment that has failed miserably. If we are responsible parents we must try our best to shield bad influences from our kids as much as possible. They should not witness thousands of killings and violence on TV year after precious year in their youth. If they are allowed to, they will lose sensitivity toward hurting others and become more vicious people.

What we see becomes part of us. We must try to avoid exposing our children to the evils of the world. Society recognizes that the 'movie ratings system' for kids is a positive thing. Although, as a result of the moral descent of this country, what used to be a relatively acceptable and tame PG rating, now probably is the equivalent of a severe 'R' rating, there are still some things that we deem inappropriate for children.

What we should be asking ourselves is: if we agree that it is inappropriate for children, why is it any more appropriate for us? We must be extremely careful with what we see and experience, as well.

Remember, what you see is what you get -- inside your mind and soul.

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