Shaya Cohen -


Invisibility? Inadvisable

When I was a kid, I used to ask people which superpower they would choose, between being able to fly, telekinesis, or invisibility. I found it was a great conversation starter, and the answers invariably gave some insight into the person answering the question.

What startled me was the number of people who immediately chose Invisibility. Because, come to think of it, invisibility is really only useful for doing things you should not do: thieve, eavesdrop, spy, peep – invading the privacy of others.

Humans are often fascinated with doing such a thing – catch a person au naturel in body and behavior, to see them as animals instead of as self-conscious individuals who have a chance to dress, comport themselves, and tailor their behavior and words for their audience. We want to peel away the layers for others, but not for ourselves. Any self-aware person is aware of the probability of embarrassment that would come from giving in to our unloosed angers and passions. Not for nothing does the Torah label rage to be the first sin. So exposing the animalistic nature and the sins of others is not very nice.

The Torah actually brings three connected stories that reinforce this point. We’ll start with the clothes of the High Priest. He had to wear a garment that had little tinkly bells that resembled pomegranates:

Aaron shall wear it while officiating, so that the sound of it is heard when he comes into the sanctuary before G-d and when he goes out—that he may not die.

The lesson seems simple enough – but why does it matter? After all, as G-d knows where we are, why does making noise everywhere we go matter?

The positive case is found in Genesis:

They heard the sound of G-d moving about in the garden at the breezy time of day; and Adam and his wife hid from G-d among the trees of the garden.

Why does G-d announce his presence before he confronts them? For the very reasons given above: G-d wants to give Adam and Eve a chance to consider how they are going to defend themselves after eating the fruit. G-d does not want to catch them unawares: he wants mankind’s response to be thoughtful and considered. He does not want to sneak up on them, or surprise them, or get an instinctive response.

In other words, G-d does not choose invisibility in the Garden where man is found! And so the High Priest reciprocates: the priest does not choose invisibility in the House where G-d is found!

The negative case is also found in Genesis: Joseph in Potiphar’s house is capable of moving without announcing his presence. As a result, he is compromised by Potiphar’s wife. Had Joseph moved everywhere “with bells on” then the situation could not have developed as it did. (The verse of the high priest and Joseph are linked through the common use of the word shor’ess שָׁרֵ֑ת.)

When working in an official capacity someone else’s home, it behooves us to emulate both G-d and the high priest (and not Joseph) by making sure our presence is known, and trackable. We want to maximize the opportunity for measured, non-animalistic, and thoughtful actions.

[an @iwe, @susanquinn, @kidcoder and @eliyahumasinter work]

P.S. Note that in both stories, fruit (the forbidden fruit and the pomegranate bells) are also featured.)

Comments are welcome!

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