Parashat Vayikra- The Danger of a Scholar Who Lacks Manners
** This week's Parasha has been dedicated L’iluy Nishmat Natan Ben Shoshana Levy by his children **
In the opening verse of Parashat Vayikra, G-d calls to Moshe and invites him into the newly-constructed Mishkan to hear His commands. The Midrash finds it very significant that Moshe waited to be called before entering the Mishkan. It was Moshe who heard the commands about the building of the Mishkan, and who then painstakingly relayed these instructions to the people and oversaw the entire project. And, of course, he was the nation’s leader and prophet who regularly spoke with G-d. And yet, in his unparalleled humility, he did not allow himself the right to enter the Mishkan without being first summoned by G-d. We might draw a comparison to a Rabbi who knocks before entering the synagogue which he leads, out of courtesy and respect for the people inside.
Commenting on the respect and courtesy Moshe displayed by waiting to be invited into the Mishkan, the Midrash makes the following astonishing remark: “Any Torah scholar who lacks wisdom – an animal carcass is better than him.” If a Torah scholar does not have basic sensibility, and acts discourteously, then he is considered worse than an “animal carcass.”
Why did our Sages choose such an unusual image – a carcass – to decry scholars who lack basic manners and decency?
One answer given is that whereas a carcass emits a foul odor, which keeps people away from it, a rude, discourteous Torah scholar attracts a following through his scholarship and piety. People are impressed by his knowledge and by his passionate commitment to learning and Misva performance, and so they flock to him and respect him. And this is precisely what makes a Torah scholar so dangerous – that people see him as a role model for them to emulate. Rather than distance themselves from him as they would from an odorous animal carcass, people respect him and learn from his example of bad manners, thinking that this is what the Torah wants, Heaven forbid.
Nowadays, all Halachically observant Jews are considered “Torah scholars” in this regard. When gentiles or non-observant Jews see an Orthodox Jewish man with a Kippa, or an Orthodox Jewish woman with a hair-covering and modest attire, they view them as representatives of Orthodox Judaism no less than they would prominent Rabbis. If any Orthodox Jewish man or woman acts without “wisdom,” without basic courtesy and good manners, then he or she unwittingly conveys the dangerous message that this is what Orthodox Judaism stands for. Our involvement in Torah learning and Misva observance does not ever excuse discourteous behavior. To the contrary, it requires us to aspire to especially high standards of manners and courtesy, as we are all ambassadors of Torah Judaism and represent to the world what the Torah teaches and the kind of behavior it demands.