What You Have in Common with the Ancient Israelites
2-½ minutes to read
Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Re’eh – Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17
Life in the military acclimates a person to oversight. Someone supervises your work. You have standard operating procedures to take you step-by-step through processes. You have to pass a periodic physical fitness test. The military uses surprise urinalyses to prevent drug use. Training in sexual harassment and assault emphasize how such behavior impairs mission readiness and hurts your comrades. Notice anything missing?
The Israelites Needed New Guidance
In 2013, I participated in three rounds of sexual assault prevention training. The substance varied little from one to the other. It was clear the Navy felt the first two hadn't gotten through to sailors. But, there seemed to be no point in presenting the same material yet again. Before we embarked on the third series, I sat down with my commanding officer.
I pointed out to him a glaring gap. Nowhere did the training make an unequivocal statement that sexual harassment and assault are wrong. The Navy set the rules. But it wouldn’t make moral judgments. Each sailor had to fill in the void. Was it surprising that some came to the wrong conclusion?
In Parshas Re’eh G-d makes it clear that people shouldn't make unguided moral decisions:
“Beware for yourself lest you bring up your elevation offerings in any place that you will see.” (Deuteronomy/Devarim 12:13)
This Sabbath’s parsha continues preparing the Israelites for life in the Land of Israel. During their wanderings in the wilderness, G-d was close by. Moses instructed them daily. Now they would live dispersed throughout the land. Moses would be gone, G-d farther away. Making the right moral decisions would be more difficult.
Lest people come to think they could do whatever they wanted, the Almighty gives a reminder. Don't fool yourself into thinking something that’s wrong is right. The rules still apply. In fact, now that I won't be so close, you’ll have less leeway in which to act.
In the third round of briefs, my CO began each one by stating sexual harassment and assault are wrong. I followed up by asking the question, “How would you feel if a shipmate treated your sister or mother that way?” A crusty old chief petty officer got incensed at our moralizing. But younger sailors appreciated the guidance. One said to me he had never thought about it in moral term until I personalized the behavior.
You Have to Play by Different Rules
The rules of civilian life are different than the military. I asked the members of my veterans Facebook group, Passport to Success – Military Vets (click here to join), what they learned on their first day in a civilian job. Some of the responses were:
“Using F*** every other word was not ok lol.”
“Kill is not a proper response to anything, especially when talking to ER nurses.”
“Based on my coworkers shoes, a good shine is no longer a priority.”
“Your assumptions about civilians is no better than their assumptions about veterans. We have to work hard to break the stereotypes about veterans.”
Experience is a tough teacher. Better to get a trusted advisor who can help you learn the rules of the civilian world. Some are moral. Others are practical. But they're all important to reintegrating.
Earlier today I took sexual assault training again. The Navy still doesn't say it’s wrong. Don't make the same mistake. Find someone, perhaps a fellow vet farther along in the process, to be your guide.
Who do you know who can help show you the way in civilian life?
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Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. Its name comes from the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.
Do you have a question about the Old Testament? Ask it here and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!
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