How Not To Get Sued

I was sued five times for libel. Three of those lawsuits were handled by my insurance and two were handled pro-bono by a friend. I believe I was out of pocket about $16,000 for expenses. I never had any assets to seize anyway.

I have found that a proper understanding of my place in reality, of my relative importance in the various interactions that make up my day, is the best tool for reducing unnecessary conflict and avoiding my character defects of dishonesty, selfishness, self-seeking, inconsideration and fear. We are different people in different emotional states, and so long as I stay out of the states of dishonesty, selfishness, self-seeking, inconsideration and fear, life goes well. Most days most of the time, I feel like I am floating through my day. When there are bumps in the road, there’s usually some part of reality that I am denying (aka I am in a state of dishonesty).

I find that having the mindset that everybody knows everything helps me to lead a more integrated life and that reduces unnecessary conflict. Previously, I used to take great joy in trying to get away with as much as I could. That did not work out well. Facebook, for example, wants you to use only one profile under your real name, with no title, and that can cover all aspects of your public life. There’s wisdom in that approach. Ideally, you operate in one sphere of your life in ways that will not damage the other spheres of your life. You don’t preach from the pulpit the opposite of what you practice at work. Instead, your hobbies, your loves, your careers and your spiritual pursuits work together to create a positively visible life.

One thing that has consistently hurt me is my lack of care. I am not high in the personality trait of conscientiousness. Knowing that, I do all sorts of things to back up my work and to engage in practices that reduce the bad effects of my sloppiness (if I want to remember to take something with me, I put it where I can’t miss it, I post notes, I set alarms on my phone, etc).

From Hanover.com:

Maintain good communications. …
Avoid giving false expectations. …
Make the client make the hard decisions. …
Document your advice and the client’s decisions. …
Don’t initiate hostilities against the client. …
Avoid, or handle with care, the borderline personality client.
Run, don’t walk, away from unsavory clients.
Do not favor your interests over your clients, or one client’s interests over another’s
Be proactive in addressing client complaints
Carry good liability insurance

From American Express:

1. Suck it up: Clients never liked this piece of advice much, but that doesn’t mean it was wrong. The fact is, people don’t usually like to resort to lawsuits; they are often a choice of last resort born of frustration. In many of the cases I dealt with, the expensive lawsuit could have been avoided if the alleged wrong party was a little more humble and reasonable. But once egos get involved and/or people get mad, once it gets overly emotional, the chance to settle diminishes rapidly.

2. Avoid suing: Once you sue someone, you open the floodgates. They can sue you back. And if they are as angry as you are, they just might. In that case, you will need to hire a lawyer, maybe notify your insurance carrier, deal with discovery, get deposed, etc. If you don’t sue though, it probably does not get that far.

3. Be reasonable: Here, I am talking about reasonableness in the legal sense. Often (not always of course) when a business is sued, the allegation is that they were negligent in some manner. Essentially, negligence means you did not act as a reasonable person would in the same or similar circumstances.

So be reasonable. Be cautious. Double check. Follow standards and rules. Be prompt.

4. Keep your word: As an adjunct to #3, it would similarly behoove you to live up to all of your agreements and not breach them. Aside from negligence suits, breach of contract suits are the most common in business. Even if the contract is difficult to live up to, breaching is rarely the proper solution.

5. Institute policies and procedures

6. Be a mensch: Be a mensch to your employees. Be a mensch to your customers. Be a mensch to your suppliers. People rarely sue menches.

From Investopedia: “Watch What You Say and Do. First of all, when it comes to your business image, owners and their employees should avoid making any public announcements or conducting any business that might be considered questionable. This means avoiding things like libelous or potentially slanderous statements, but it also means not doing business with unscrupulous individuals. You may not think it’s a problem working for a group of individuals who are known for shoddy business practices – because you know your company’s ethics are above reproach – but if they take a hit, your company’s name may be linked to them in the fallout.”

From MoneyCrashers.com:

Review for Lawsuit Vulnerability. Review your business and personal practices to identify areas or actions that make it more likely that you will be subject to future legal actions. If possible, cease the activity or end the relationship. If it’s not possible to stop, change it to reduce your vulnerability.

Require Potential Plaintiffs to Assume Responsibility. Companies aggressively and publicly identify possible adverse consequences for the use of their products or services.

Shrink Your Public Profile. Plaintiff attorneys and bill collectors often complain about those people who are “judgment-proof.” In layman’s terms, these are people who have little or no assets exposed to creditors or judgments. Since there is little likelihood of financial benefits, plaintiff attorneys are reluctant to sue such people.

Reduce your allure to future claimants in the following ways:

Transfer Assets. Giving your property to a family trust is a popular way to protect your assets. If you don’t own it, no one can attach it.

Leverage Assets. Borrowing and giving the lender a lien on your property makes collection of a judgment more difficult. A court’s judgment, in most cases, cannot override the rights and priority of a secured creditor or lien holder. In order to take the property, the plaintiff would have to first satisfy the lien. This process can be expensive and cumbersome, an action most plaintiffs are reluctant to pursue unless the difference between the market value of the assets and the loans are substantial…

Lawsuits are generally nasty, often personal affairs. Even if you’re successful in defending the claim against you, you will pay a price financially and emotionally.

The Balance Careers:

Don’t break the law. This may sound like common sense, but thousands of small business owners routinely violate laws by:

Not Registering or Legally Establishing A Business,
Failing to Report Income or File Taxes Properly,
Copyright, Patent, or Trademark Infringement.

Another common reason business owners (especially employers) get sued is because they create documents (employee manuals, contracts, legal forms, and even email communications) that set them up for lawsuits.

It is important that you have someone qualified to help you set up any document that shows or establishes how your business is set up or run.

From a law firm:

Keep accurate records
Reputable businesses make it a standard practice to keep accurate records at all times. This process includes recording the time and date of when an agreement was signed, and items discussed at each subsequent meeting. Any communication, including phone calls, emails, and transactions, can be documented. Some businesses limit their record-taking to when a problem occurs that jeopardizes the timely completion of an assignment.

Businesses should have their records state exactly what services were agreed upon with each customer in case of a lawsuit. Those details could include a number of different products or services that were discussed in the negotiating process. Remember, consistent records can be used as a defense in the case of a lawsuit.

Write and implement company policies and procedures
Another important step in protecting your business is properly drafting workplace policies and procedures which may help prevent lawsuits. Instruct your staff to follow these policies because they can be vital in protecting your company. Providing a job manual or employee handbook is the safest route for your employees to learn policies and perform their jobs well.

Be ethical, honest, and moral
It is important that businesses strive to be ethical in their practices every day in order to build a reputation within the community. The goal should be that no client, transaction, or dollar amount is worth jeopardizing your place in the market by bending the rules. Act in a professional manner each time you deal with customers and employees to help prevent being sued.

Provide exceptional customer service
One way to avoid being sued is having great customer service. Some customers may just be upset, and quality customer service can make the difference between calming them down or dealing with a lawsuit. Your staff should be prepared to explain that mistakes are unintentional, but can happen. Proper training with managers and employees can help prevent a lawsuit.

Judy Melinek MD writes:

1. Don’t be an asshole. Patients sue when they are angry at their doctors. If you treat people badly, they are more likely to blame you when things go wrong — even when it’s not your fault. Give your patients your time and attention and empathy.

2. Take the time to explain things.

3. Don’t promise anything you can’t deliver.

4. Check your ego and your peer-reviewed references. You do not know everything.

5. Take responsibility for mistakes and apologize.

Link: “When patients perceive their doctors are friendly and helpful, they are much less likely to sue them. Although being warm and friendly does not eliminate any chance of a lawsuit, doctors who are perceived as cold or dismissive are more likely to get hit by a lawsuit. In studies asking them why they sued, plaintiffs cited perceptions that the doctor deserted them, was unhelpful, devalued their views, and didn’t acknowledge their perspective.”

Mark Suster writes:

1. If you want to start a company, create a legal entity — it’s dirt cheap.

2. Make it clear in writing that anybody you speak to about the idea does not constitute their contributing to your IP and if they do any work for you please make sure you sign a legal agreement assigning the IP to you.

3. Be formal with every employee contract — even with friends.

4. Make sure you have standard vesting — even before your raise capital. At least one year cliff and four-year vesting. No acceleration. Everybody signs — even you. No “special deals.”

5. Where possible avoid 50-50 ownership. It leads to more problems than I care to say. Nobody talks about this publicly because the fights are too personal so people don’t blog about them. It is insanely common.

6. Be very careful with everything you write in an email or send in a text message. These will be read out loud in a court of law and will be used out of context if needed. Humor is tone deaf in court. I was forced to explain why I say “I switched to the Dark Side” (referring to VC) on my blog. I was continually asked whether I was evil in a serious tone. It’s not crazy to use services like Confide or Cyberdust that delete your messages after you send them.

7. Follow HR protocols. This is something many young founders err on because often they have never worked in a “real” company. If you think you may have to terminate employees always have legal advice. Where possible sign releases in exchange for your providing more benefits or compensation than the law stipulates. Never be mean or bitter for outgoing employees — it never pays.

Posted in Legal | Comments Off on How Not To Get Sued

Loneliness & Eccentricity

I spent six years of my twenties largely bedridden. The loneliness that accompanied that lockdown led to some morose thinking and weird behavior. For example, I’d go about in my favorite red-hearts boxer shorts instead of putting on proper clothing.

In isolation, it is easy for me to forget about my appearance and develop a general disregard for the social niceties. Being polite doesn’t come naturally to me, and without the prompts of social interaction, those muscles get weak.

I get extra weird when I’m not interacting with people. It is hard to see how weird one gets, right? It is hard to notice how one is eccentric. How are you eccentric? My weirdness and eccentricity chiefly reveals itself in anti-social and unnecessarily provocative comments. I do it to get a chuckle and have a brief bond. When I am in a good place, those comments are saved for the audience that appreciates them. When I am not in a good place, I am not as discriminating with my shock jock attitude.

When I am lonely, I become more desperate for attention, and this results in attention-seeking behavior, which usually strikes people as weird, and that makes me even more lonely. What is more challenging for me when I am lonely is to get centered, to do my 12-step work, to reconnect to God and to my purpose in life, and then when I feel at ease with myself and the universe, from that place, human connection flows easily. From a desperate needy place, human connection gets frazzled.

Because of the pandemic, I am not as social as I was previously. I am spending less time around others and more time reading books. Have you lost any social skills during the pandemic? Is there a weirdness and eccentricity that has crept into your behavior and tripped you up?

Relationships are so important that when we are alone, they are the thing we often think about. I have thoughts like, Oh, I wonder how Joe would react to this? Would Sandra get a good chuckle over this? I can’t wait to share this with Chaim.

What has helped to keep me sane during this pandemic is the phone, which I use to participate in 12-step meetings, to talk to sponsees, and to keep up with friends.

For many of my friends in Orthodox Judaism, shul on Shabbos morning is the highlight of their week. But with all the restrictions and dangers, many Jews are skipping this, or if they do participate, they don’t enjoy it as much.

I had a friend who started saying a bunch of anti-social things online but he was never that way when he was talking to me. It shows how much of an effect we can have on people — it can be large when we are directly engaging with someone, and then when we leave, the effect goes to zero.

I love this concept: “Intersubjectivity, in philosophy, psychology, sociology, and anthropology, is the psychological relation between people. It is usually used in contrast to solipsistic individual experience, emphasizing the inherent sociality of humans.”

Posted in Addiction, Personal | Comments Off on Loneliness & Eccentricity

Sailer: BLM in Trouble with BBC Over Anti-Israel Stance

Steve Sailer writes: “Two previous eras of black supremacist ideology — the late 1960s and the early 1990s — both came a-cropper when they got too many Jews peeved at black anti-Semitism. For example, Spike Lee’s soaring movie career got shot down when he satirized Jewish music industry businessmen exploiting black musicians in his 1990 movie Mo’ Better Blues. Spike never got an Oscar until his lame BlacKkKlansman in 2018 added a made-up Jewish hero.
We’ll see whether the pattern repeats a third time…”

Posted in Anti-Semitism, BLM | Comments Off on Sailer: BLM in Trouble with BBC Over Anti-Israel Stance

NYT: Australia Thought the Virus Was Under Control. It Found a Vulnerable Spot.

From the New York Times:

The authorities have locked down 300,000 people in heavily immigrant areas around Melbourne, reinforcing the coronavirus’s outsized impact on disadvantaged communities….

The rise in infections — Victoria reported 77 new cases Thursday, the most since March — has driven home the outsized impact of the coronavirus on vulnerable communities. In these places, people often must venture out for jobs that put them at risk of contracting the virus, and communication by the authorities in residents’ native languages can be patchy.

As it has elsewhere in the world, the coronavirus found a hole in Australia’s system: It spread in part because of the sharing of a cigarette lighter among security guards working at a hotel where returning international travelers are being quarantined.

It sounds to me like some immigrants are not a blessing. Is “vulnerable communities” a euphemism for low-IQ communities? There aren’t many high IQ security guards. It’s about the lowest paying job around.

So these immigrants can’t speak English? Why would a country like Australia want to admit immigrants who can’t speak English?

In Australia, the coronavirus has taken hold in pockets around Melbourne where government messaging has not always been effective because of language barriers and other problems like distrust of the authorities. Fears of testing for the virus run high, and people may be less able to stay home from casual jobs when ill.

Some of these areas also experience high rates of homelessness and overcrowding, making it difficult for people to adhere to social-distancing guidelines.

Why would Australia want to import these people?

The dangers were foreshadowed in May, when a panel of doctors and experts warned the Australian government that it had missed an opportunity to protect migrant communities.

How much can a government protect people who can’t be bothered to learn to read English and to follow health directions?

Mr. Micallef and other community leaders said communication by the state and federal authorities to high-risk groups had fallen short of what would have been necessary to prevent infections. Some said that translated information took too long to reach them, and was not clear.

“You almost need a university degree to try to understand it,” Mohammad Al-Khafaji, the chief executive of the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia, said of a multipage document on the coronavirus that the government had translated into Arabic.

Definitely the government’s fault here.

She added that while a first wave of racism related to the coronavirus had targeted people of Asian descent, a second wave against migrant and ethnic communities was emerging because of misconceptions that these groups did not heed public health advice.

Leaders in the Islamic community also said they worried that anti-Muslim sentiment had risen after reports that one of Melbourne’s clusters had originated at an Eid celebration last month.

Where are the misconceptions?

Posted in Australia | Comments Off on NYT: Australia Thought the Virus Was Under Control. It Found a Vulnerable Spot.

This Week’s Parasha (Chukat-Balak) – Numbers 19-25

Various commentaries.

* Judaism and Christianity have different preoccupations with sin. For Christianity, the primary problem with sin is that it cuts off the individual from God and heavenly salvation. For Judaism, the primary problem with sin is that it contaminates the community. The Sin Offering, for example, does not seem to purify the offerer, it “is not carried out on the offerer but only on his behalf.”

The Siddur, the Jewish prayer book, does not have prayers in the first person. All the prayers are for the community.

There is no forgiveness in the sacrificial system for sins of man against man, and almost never is there forgiveness for any deliberate sin against God. “The inadvertent offender needs forgiveness not because of his act per se…but because of the consequences of his act.”

* “God won’t dwell in a polluted sanctuary.” If we want God to grant us serenity, we need to make choices to enhance our serenity. if we want God around, we probably can’t have unholy movie posters in our home.

* Upon entering, I can immediately sense the difference between a religious and a secular home.

* If you want to walk in the sunlight of the spirit, what does that require of you? How that does that affect your choices of friends, work, recreation? How does it shape your choices of music and books and movies? How does that affect how you lay out your home?

* Appearances matter. How you dress matters. “Priestly legists have not focused on disease per se but only on the appearance of disease.”

* L’chaim (choose life) is a good approach to living. Celebrating Halloween seems to be a choice for celebrating death.

* What is the metadivine realm? Christine Hayes: “This is the realm of supreme and ultimate power and it transcends the deities. The deity or the deities emerge from and are therefore subject to the laws of the metadivine realm, the forces and powers of the metadivine realm. And the nature of this realm will vary from pagan tradition to pagan tradition.”

* Apotropaic magic is a type of magic intended to turn away harm or evil influences, as in deflecting misfortune or averting the evil eye.”

* Theurgy: “the operation or effect of a supernatural or divine agency in human affairs.”

* In this week’s parasha, the Jews are undocumented immigrants seeking comprehensive immigration reform in Canaan. Do you think they had valid passports? No way. They were no longer citizens of Egypt. They were seeking sanctuary and a better life and freedom to practice their religion.

* Jews are great at bitter remonstrance. Take Numbers 20:3-5: And the people contended with Moses and spoke, saying: “If only we had died when our brethren died before the Lord! 4 Why have you brought up the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness, that we and our animals should die here? 5 And why have you made us come up out of Egypt, to bring us to this evil place? It is not a place of grain or figs or vines or pomegranates; nor is there any water to drink.”

* Moshe and Aaron walk away and fall on their faces. That doesn’t seem like great leadership. They’re worn down by the kvetching.

Most of us tend to be nice to other people when we’re feeling good, but as we get under increasing pressure, our kindliness diminishes. That also goes for groups. When groups are prospering, it is easier to be generous to out-groups. When your group is in decline and losing sovereignty of the countries you created, such as whites in the West, you can be expected to be less kind to out-groups. Genocides don’t come out of nowhere. They come out of extreme competition for scarce resources such as land and water.

* Numbers 20:11: Moshe strikes the rock. But this isn’t why he upset God. It’s because he said, “Shall we get water for you out of this rock?” Because Moshe did not acknowledge that God was the source of the miracle, he did not get to enter the promised land.

* Moshe speaks in Numbers 20:15: “how our fathers went down to Egypt, and we dwelt in Egypt a long time, and the Egyptians afflicted us and our fathers.” No mention of how the God of the Jews afflicted the Egyptians. Not a lot of empathy there for the Egyptians who lost all of their first born and suffered through Ten Plagues.

* Numbers 20:18: “Then Edom said to him, “You shall not pass through my land, lest I come out against you with the sword.”

And Moshe replied, “Bro, it’s the current year!”

And another Israelite added: “My wife’s son really wants to come through. Can’t we all get along?”

* It’s a shame that Edom didn’t let the Jews pass through. Think of how the Jew could have enriched Edom with teachings about multiculturalism, sodomy and how to run a central bank. You know why you don’t hear about Edomites today? Because they didn’t allow themselves to be enriched by Jews. Instead they clung to their spears and religion and their narrow parochial ways, and they died out because they weren’t willing to adapt to modernity.

In Numbers 20, Moshe says: “I think there’s a resurgence of anti-Semitism because at this point in time Edom has not yet learned how to be multicultural, and I think we’re gonna be part of the throes of that transformation, which must take place. Edom and the Ancient Near East are not going to be the monolithic societies that they once were in the last century. Jews are going to be at the center of that. It’s a huge transformation for Edom to make. They are now going into a multicultural mode, and Jews will be resented because of our leading role. But without that leading role, and without that transformation, Edom will not survive.”

Aaron added: “I believe what affects the movements in Edom and the Ancient Near East, what affects our attitudes are as much the culture and the arts as anything else. It wasn’t anything we legislatively did. It was the social media. Literally. That’s what changed peoples’ attitudes. Think behind of all that, I bet you 85 percent of those changes, whether it’s in Hollywood or social media are a consequence of Jewish leaders in the industry. The influence is immense, the influence is immense. And, I might add, it is all to the good.”

* The Edomites refusal to let Israel through shows why need the United Nations to mediate such disputes, and why we must move past petty nationalism to embrace globalism and one-world government run by the smartest people, who will of course be Jewish.

* Numbers 21:1-3: “The king of Arad, the Canaanite, who dwelt in the South, heard that Israel was coming on the road to Atharim. Then he fought against Israel and took some of them prisoners. 2 So Israel made a vow to the Lord, and said, “If You will indeed deliver this people into my hand, then I will utterly destroy their cities.” 3 And the Lord listened to the voice of Israel and delivered up the Canaanites, and they utterly destroyed them and their cities. So the name of that place was called Hormah.” That seems fair. If the goyim take us captive, we nuke their towns.

That’s a lot of chutzpah for the Canaanites to go to war with Israel and take some of us captive. I’ve still got a burn against Canaanites for this. I know not all Canaanites are kidnappers, but I’m ticked and I don’t care. Death to the Canaanites!

* Perhaps the Torah should have made clear that not all Canaanites are kidnappers and not all Edomites are bigots, haters and nationalists.

* Numbers 21:5: “And the people spoke against God and against Moses: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread.” More kvetching! Oy vey!

* If somebody is confusing you, and you are sane and sober, the chances are the person is either lying or manipulating.

* Num. 22:3: “Moab was terrified because there were so many people. Indeed, Moab was filled with dread because of the Israelites. 4 The Moabites said to the elders of Midian, “This horde is going to lick up everything around us, as an ox licks up the grass of the field.””

Numbers matter. Demographics matter. Fearing a powerful neighbor is normal. The Torah says nothing about Moab feeling dread because of the superiority of the Jewish religion. Nor is there anything about Moab hating Israel because of its freedom.

* Balaam has supernatural gifts. I am open to people having such gifts. Perhaps God reaches out to those who reach out to him.

* How much do you care about other people blessing or cursing you?

* Balaam has supernatural gifts. I am open to people having such gifts. Perhaps God reaches out to those who reach out to him.

* How much do you care about other people blessing or cursing you?

* Wikipedia entry on Balak.

* When Pinchas kills the fornicators, that’s an intense solution to an intense problem — the public desecration of Judaism’s laws. It is one thing to sin privately, that can be ignored, but if you sin publicly, you’re asking for a response. The more intense the public sin, the more intense the response. What was the proper response to the decadence of Weimar Germany? What is the proper response to the decadence of Weimarica?

* Most men will give up everything for the opportunity to have sex with a hot chick. I see no reason to waste time denying or bemoaning this reality. Instead, we should accept it and design policy around it.

Women are not superior creatures because they have a lower sex drive (when did you last see a female leader fired for her bad sexual choices?). They are superior in the narrow sense that nature enables them to make less impetuous sexual choices just as nature has endowed men with greater strength and intelligence and courage to make sounder choices in other areas of life.

Rabbi Adlerstein writes:

As important as goodness is to His nature, His being incorporates other characteristics as well, including a love of justice. Every aveirah we commit makes us less worthy of receiving His abundant blessings. It frustrates, as it were, His desire to shower us more and more goodness. When we do good, on the other hand, we play a role in the supporting of the entire purpose of creation. Our actions “enable,” as it were, Hashem to give us yet more of His blessing. (This thought clears up another mystery – why the second parshah of the Shema promises material benefit in return for our faithful performance of mitzvos. Here, too, we can read the Torah’s message in a different way. If we listen to Hashem and serve Him with love (as that parshah emphasizes), we fulfill the very purpose of Creation – “enabling” Him to bless us with abundant rains, etc. If instead we turn from Him, thwarting His purpose, we are no longer proper recipients of His blessing. It is then withheld – blocking His intention to send us a rich Divine Influence.)

Perhaps this is also the way we should understand Chazal’s pithy statement5 that one mitzvah pulls along the next. We usually understand this as meaning that the performance of a mitzvah makes it easier for us to do another, or leads to Divine assistance facilitating our future observance. Perhaps, though, Chazal mean something quite different. The performance of any mitzvah inexorably drags along another, specific mitzvah its wake. Each mitzvah accomplishes a second mitzvah: bringing “pleasure,” as it were to Hashem, whose sole objective in creating the world was to give us more and more pleasure!

This is also part of the meaning of our pasuk. When we live by the mitzvos, we bring pleasure to Hashem, Who follows up with more and more blessing, including the ultimate blessing of the closeness to Him known as olam haba.

Rabbi Artson writes:

Living itself is a ‘mitzvah.’ Without maintaining life, no other ‘mitzvot’ and no other holiness is possible. Therefore, the ‘mitzvot’ have context when recognized to be the essential aids along the path toward the sublime.

But they are not themselves the summit. Irreplaceable, yes. Even obligatory and sacred. But still, the ‘mitzvot’ are not identical to the goal; they are the means toward attaining the goal. Choosing not to rely simply on their own authority, the rabbis of the Talmud remark that the Torah itself tells us that the purpose of the ‘mitzvot’ is to help us to live, not to prevent or even to endanger human life. “You shall live by them,” not die by them. And in that simple distinction, our tradition mediates a complex and dynamic balance.

Yes, the ‘mitzvot’ are commanded. Without them, we will be unable to find our way back to the Source of holiness and oneness in the world. Without them, we cannot hope to repair our characters, our people and our world. Yet, for all their tremendous value and their indispensability, the ‘mitzvot’ themselves are but steps along the path, lights to guide us in our walk. The goal is more than just a network of behavior, more than a pattern of study, deed and prayer. The goal is a sufficiently rich inner life, a sufficiently pulsating love of the Jewish People and all humanity, a sufficiently overwhelming responsibility for our planet and its denizens, that out of that rich spirituality, loyalty, love and connection will emerge that most precious of all Jewish commodities: a true sacred servant. Such a person — open to the Divine, respectful of other seekers, yet true to the path of Judaism, able to learn from others and to share with all — testifies through deed and through word to the oneness of the universe and the wisdom and the love of its Source. And that is surely living. ‘Va-chai bahem.’

Jacob Milgrom writes in his popular commentary on Leviticus:

The basic premises of pagan religion are (1) that its deities are themselves dependent on and influenced by a metadivine realm, (2) that this realm spawns a multitude of malevolent and benevolent entities, and (3) that if humans can tap into this realm they can acquire the magical power to coerce the gods to do their will.” The eminent Assyriologist W. G. Lambert has stated, “The impression is gained that everyday religion [in Mesopotamia] was dominated by fear of evil powers and black magic rather than a positive worship of the gods … the world was conceived to be full of evil demons who might cause trouble in any sphere of life. If they had attacked, the right ritual should effect the cure…. Humans, as well as devils, might work evil against a person by the black arts, and here too the appropriate ritual was required””

The Priestly theology negates these premises. It posits the existence of one supreme God who contends neither with a higher realm nor with competing peers. The world of demons is abolished; there is no struggle with autonomous foes, because there are none. With the demise of the demons, only one creature remains with “demonic” power-the human being. Endowed with free will, human power is greater than any attributed to humans by pagan society. Not only can one defy God but, in Priestly imagery, one can drive God out of his sanctuary. In this respect, humans have replaced demons.

The pagans secured the perpetual aid of a benevolent deity by building him/her a temple-residence in which the deity was housed, fed, and worshiped in exchange for protective care. Above all, the temple had to be inoculated by apotropaic rites-utilizing utilizing magic drawn from the metadivine realm-against incursions by malevolent forces from the supernal and infernal worlds. The Priestly theologians make use of the same imagery, except that the demons are replaced by humans. Humans can drive God out of the sanctuary by polluting it with their moral and ritual sins. All that the priests can do is periodically purge the sanctuary of its impurities and influence the people to atone for their wrongs.

This thoroughgoing evisceration of the demonic also transformed the concept of impurity. In Israel, impurity was harmless. It retained potency only with regard to sanctums. Laypersons-but not priests-might contract impurity with impunity; they must not, however, delay their purificatory rites lest their impurity affect the sanctuary. The retention of impurity’s dynamic (but not demonic) power in regard to sanctums tums served a theological function. The sanctuary symbolized the presence of God; impurity represented the wrongdoing of persons. If persons unremittingly polluted the sanctuary, they forced God out of his sanctuary and out of their lives.

The Priestly texts on scale disease (chaps. 13-14) and chronic genital flows (chap. 15) give ample witness to the Priestly polemic against the idea that physical impurity arises from the activity of demons who must be either exorcised or appeased. Purification is neither healing nor theurgy. The afflicted person undergoes purification only after being cured. Ablutions are wordless rites; they are unaccompanied by incantation or gesticulation-the quintessential ingredients in pagan healing rites. The adjective used is “purified,” not “cured”; the verb “cure” never appears in the ritual. A moldy garment or a fungous house (13:47-58; 14:33-53) does not reflect on the character of its owner, for the owner brings no sacrifice and performs no rite that might indicate culpability. Even though the scale-diseased person does bring sacrifices for possible wrongdoing, the only determinable “wrong” is that the owner’s impurity has polluted the sanctuary. Especially noteworthy is the bird rite at the beginning of this purification process, which, in spite of its clear exorcistic origins, gins, has solely a symbolic function in Israel. Above all, it seems likely that most, if not all, of the varieties of scale disease described in chapter 13 are not even contagious, which supports my conclusion that scale disease is only one part of a larger symbolic system.

Another example of the way the Priestly legists excised the demonic from impurity is the case of the person afflicted with chronic genital flux (15:1-15, 25-30). It is the discharge that contaminates, not the person. Hence, objects that are underneath neath such a person-bed, seat, saddle-but no others are considered impure. In Mesopotamia, however, one’s table and cup transmit impurity. The difference is that in Israel, the afflicted man does not contaminate by touch as long as he washes his hands. As a result, he was not banished or isolated but was allowed to remain at home. The same concessions were extended to the menstruant, who was otherwise universally ostracized (chap. 15). She, too, defiled only that which was beneath her. Touching such objects, however, incurred greater impurity than touching her directly (15:19, 21-22). As illogical as it seems, it makes perfect sense when viewed from the larger perspective of the primary Priestly objective to root out the prevalent notion that the menstruant was possessed by demonic powers.

The parade example of the evisceration of the demonic from Israel’s cult is provided by Azazel (16:10). Although Azazel seems to have been the name of a demon, the goat sent to him is not a sacrifice requiring slaughter and blood manipulation; nor does it have the effect of a sacrifice in providing purification, expiation, and the like. The goat is simply the symbolic vehicle for dispatching Israel’s sins to the wilderness (16:21-22). The analogous elimination rites in the pagan world stand in sharp contrast (see chap. 16). The purification of the corpse-contaminated person with the lustral ashes of the red cow (Numbers 19) can also claim pride of place among Israel’s victories over pagan beliefs. The hitherto demonic impurity of the corpse has been devitalized, first by denying its autonomous power to pollute the sanctuary and then by denying that the corpse-contaminated person must be banished from his community during his purificatory period (see chap. 4, Theme A).

Israel’s battle against demonic beliefs was not won in one stroke. Scripture indicates that it was a gradual process. The cultic sphere attests a progressive reduction of contagious impurity in three primary human sources: scale disease, pathological flux, and corpse contamination. The earliest Priestly tradition calls for their banishment (Num 5:2-4) because the presence of God is coextensive with the entire camp, but later strata show that banishment is prescribed only for scale disease (Lev 13:46). The fact that genital flux and corpse contamination permit their bearers to remain at home indicates that the divine presence is not viewed as confined to the sanctuary. Henceforth in P, the only fear evoked by impurity is its potential impact on the sanctuary. H, which extends God’s presence over the entire land of Israel, also innovates a nonritual and nonexpiable impurity (chap. 18). The driving force behind this impurity reduction is Israel’s monotheism. The baneful still inheres in things, but it spreads only under special conditions, for example, carrion when consumed and genital discharges when contacted. But note that impurity springs to life, resuming its virulent character, only in regard to the sphere of the sacred (5:1-13), and that these impurities are not to be confused with evils.

A similar gradation in the contagion of holiness is also exhibited in Scripture, but for different reasons. In the earliest traditions of the Bible, the sanctums communicate holiness to persons, the sanctuary’s inner sanctums more powerfully so-directly directly by sight (if uncovered) and indirectly by touch (if covered), even when the contact is accidental.

Posted in Torah | Comments Off on This Week’s Parasha (Chukat-Balak) – Numbers 19-25