Parashat Vayikra

Not Ours To Discard

Though the book of Leviticus--and other global systems--may seem antiquated, but we cannot just strike them from the record.

Print this page Print this page

For this, I am glad.

Not Ours To Discard

Jewish civilization, in its wisdom, knows that certain systems may need to be creatively encountered, but should never be discarded. From our limited human perspective, we are unable to know why the Divine Mind might have bothered to detail so explicitly the elements of a flour offering.

Yet we do know that we cannot strike it from the record any more than we should carelessly watch (or contribute) to the extinction of a tropical flower that has no apparent function--not because it might some day cure cancer, but because it is not ours to strike.

Whenever human beings encounter unfamiliar systems, we have the urge to reinvent them in our image. Only a generation or two ago, Europeans believed that the best way to help people in developing countries was to foist upon them European social and religious models. The world still pays for these misguided initiatives today.

With greater wisdom, and from a place of greater humility, we now recognize that the cultures of the Global South are, like any civilization--and like any ecosystem--ancient in their wisdom and continually developing and changing. If not for injustices perpetrated upon them, they may have fared better than we have.

In our attempts to address the wrongs we encounter in these cultures--as we empower disempowered women, share helpful agricultural practices, and support struggling minorities--we must walk a fine line.

How should we apply creative development strategies to villages in India, helping them to keep from being flooded by corporate development, without inadvertently undermining their own traditional leadership structures? How should we train nurses in clinics in Ghana without discrediting their deeply held spiritual beliefs and their traditional practices? How should we prevent the erosion of traditional oral histories in rural Kenya even while we provide children with education?

None of this is a mandate to withhold aid and support. That would be cruel, inhumane. Worldwide, needs exist, and more surface all the time. Rather, this suggests that every ancient system has endemic wisdom.

As we strive to understand, let us maintain a posture of humility and not arrogance. As we aim to aid, let us maintain a stance of partnership and not patronization. As we build relationships, let us be aware of even deeper likenesses below the surface. As I learn from pictures of my own ancestors, we all share a common story, and none of us is better off by forgetting any part of the past.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Evan Wolkenstein is the Director of Experiential Education and a Tanach teacher at the Jewish Community High School of the Bay in San Francisco.