Chris Hansen & The Red Heifer – Hmmm….

The WORD – 6/30/11.  NBC reporter Chris Hansen has made his living catching potential sexual predators on video after they have made plans via the internet to meet up with underage girls.  His crew secretly records the man and then Hansen emerges from another room – instead of a young girl – to interview the man before he gets arrested.  Over the years, Hansen has mastered the judgmental, accusatory tone that he uses during these exchanges.

Thanks to his segments on Dateline, a large number of sexual predators have been put behind bars.  Most likely, his show has also prevented other men from pursuing girls on-line out of fear of getting caught.  Hopefully, it has also taught young girls how dangerous it can be to communicate with strangers via the internet.  Through his work, Hansen has done a tremendous public service.

Now, the National Enquirer has tried to “put the shoe on the other foot.”  It seems as if they have caught Chris Hansen on video cheating on his wife.  Now, first of all, let’s be clear – there is no moral equivalence between a man who preys on underage girls and a man who has an extra-marital affair with a consenting adult.  That being said, it’s more than a little ironic to have Chris Hansen’s inappropriate sexual conduct caught on tape.  It is a reminder to us all that none of us should focus so much energy on judging others that we forget about our own behavior.

This week’s Torah portion begins with a description of the Red Heifer purification ceremony.  It is a bizarre ritual – to say the least.  God instructed Moses and Aaron as follows:  “Instruct the Israelite people to bring you a red cow without blemish, in which there is no defect (Num. 19:2).” The rabbis interpreted this verse to mean that even two black hairs would disqualify a cow from being considered a perfectly red cow.  According to the Mishnah, there were only eight perfect red heifers ever found from the time of Moses through the destruction of theSecondTemple(a span of possibly 1300 years).  There have been no others in the nearly 2,000 years since.  In other words, perfection just doesn’t come along all that often.

Although we do not perform the Red Heifer ceremony any longer, we can still learn something from it.  The Red Heifer ceremony was intended to purify individuals who had become ritually unclean – bringing them back toward God.  Today, when we focus on the imperfections of others – and assume ourselves to be perfect – we move further away from God and the Torah.  When we remember that we ourselves are imperfect, we give ourselves the opportunity to push ourselves closer to God and the Torah.

So, let’s all do our part – as Chris Hansen has more than done – to protect our children and punish criminal behavior.  But, let’s also remember that such acts do not give us a “pass” when it comes to our own immoral behavior.




About Rabbi Avi Friedman

I am the rabbi of Congregation Ohr Shalom - SJCC, a progressive Conservative and traditional congregation. I am also husband to Jodi as well as father to Gabi, Jonah, Jessica and Ilana. I have been a part of the Summit community since 2005.
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