Friday, October 2, 2015

Brush Turkey “Battle” “Blessed Violence?” & prejudice - Vzot Habracha

Brush Turkey happily
back on his mound
The battle to banish the
Brush Turkey
Apart from reminding ourselves that perpetrators of violence should not be taken to represent everyone from any cultural or religious community, it is useful to explore the nature of violence. Not to condone it, but to remind ourselves that it is something that is done by people of many faiths and walks of life rather than being the domain of the poor or the Aboriginal as seems to be suggested by one journalist 1 this week, or intrinsic to Edom as suggested in Midrash relating to our reading this week of Vzot Habracha. 2

Let us define violence broadly as doing something that causes distress to another creature. I engaged in “violence” this week against a perceived threat, a male Brush Turkey who decided to create a mount for himself in my backyard. I believed, falsely, that they are very territorial creatures who might harm my two year old daughter. I began my battle to get rid of it. I got on the internet to gather intelligence against my “enemy” and learned that these are determined creatures that will not go quietly. I spent two hours under the cover of darkness, reclaiming my land. I covered his mound with a sack and other stuff. I cleared excess leaves and watched him pace the next day, as our battle of wills played out.

I was wrong about the Brush Turkey. A knowledgeable friend persuaded me that my next planned step, putting down chicken wire would be very cruel. He told me that they are not territorial. They will come for a few months, lay eggs in the mound then go away. He also suggested that I was the colonizer as “they were here before us”. So I removed the impediments to the mound making. Now I am getting a lot of pleasure watching this amazing natural process play out as this energetic creature builds his mount by flicking leaves backwards, for hours on end.

As I reflect on my battle with my new friend. I notice how quickly people can be moved to perceive a threat and seek to eliminate it. The thinking can be focused on how to conquer the enemy instead of exploring how we might be able to coexist. Yet, unfortunately, not all conflicts are so easily resolvable. There are real enemies. These are not monsters. They are people that are essentially like me who are up against something they think threatens them or something precious to them.

This is one way for me to think about an implied message in the Torah reading this week that killing even family members is virtuous. Moses says of Levi. “The one who says of his father and mother, I did not see them, and his brother he did not recognise and his children he did not know”. 3 This is taken to mean that he was willing to kill his relatives who worshiped the Golden Calf, including his grandchildren. 4

I  Find this particularly disturbing in light of the following. In the final moments of Moses’ life, he blesses all but one of the Jewish tribes, 5 the one tribe that is left out in Simeon. This is the second time that all are blessed except for Simeon. Jacob’s deathbed blessings to almost all his sons instead contained a curse of Simeon’s and his Brother Levi’s anger because of their massacre of the inhabitants of the city of Shchem. However when Moses does his blessings, Levi is blessed while only Simeon misses out. One way of explaining this is that both brothers were like “borrowers” when they massacred the people of Shchem. However Simeon did not redeem himself, 6 Levi did redeem themselves in their conduct during the golden calf, which might be about the fact that they showed their loyalty by not worshiping the calf, but of course they also demonstrated their loyalty by the very disturbing killing in the previous paragraph.

To fight is not glorious although sometimes a decision is made that to fight is necessary to protect that which one cherishes. I recently attended a ceremony, alongside an Australian Sheikh of Turkish descent at Australia’s War Memorial. We heard about the personal sacrifices by young men who gave away most of their lives and about families who lost multiple members. Dr. Brendan Nelson, who spoke to our group, told us that the miserable business of war was ultimately about; love of country, about loyalty to “mates” and that our ability to live our lives in freedom is a result of their sacrifice. I was moved by the speaker. Yet, I am also aware of the temptation to minimize the brutal consequences of war on the “enemy”, the non-combatants caught in the cross fire, the psychologically damaged soldiers who suffer for years after the war in addition to “our soldier-martyrs” who lost their lives.
Violence is a complex business. We must continue to strive against it. It is a fight worth getting into, with compassion and determination.

2.    The verse states “God came from Sinai, and shined from Seir” (Deuteronomy 33:2), which is linked in Me’am Loez to a Midrashic story that God offered the Torah to various nations including Edom but was turned down. In the case of Edom, they refused to accept the Torah because of the prohibition of killing which the Midrash sees as being very much part of the nature of Edom.  Essentialising is one key element of prejudice which sees the person not as an individual human being to be taken as they are.
3.    Deuteronomy 33:9
4.    Rashi based on earlier sources, more specifically it is relates to them being willing to kill their grandfathers, half-brothers and grandchildren who worshiped the golden calf. Klei Yakar interprets this as a reference to the dedication to Torah study at the expense of family as the sage Rabba states in the Talmud (Eruvin 44) that Torah is found in one who is cruel to his children like a Raven and Rav Ada Bar Matna dismissed his wife’s concern when she asked him question “what will be with our young children?” as he was preparing to leave to study at the academy of Rav. He replied “there are plenty of greens in the meadow" Talmud Eruvin 22a, a variation of the theme of acting harshly to protect something, in this case one’s learning
5.    Deuteronomy 33:6-25
6.    Sifre 33:8, Ibn Ezra relates this to their idol worship and sinning with the daughters of Moab. The sin in this case was not that of Simeon alone, however it was predominantly members of this tribe that were implicated. This can be seen by the dramatic decline in the number of people of the tribe of Simeon in the census at the end of the book of numbers (26:14), 22,200 in comparison to the number of members of this tribe in the earlier census at the beginning of the book of numbers (1:23) 59,300.


  1. Hag Sameach Zalman,

    Reading Rabba's statement in Note 4 , I though of the story of the Mitteler Rebbe engrossed in his studies and Alter Rebbe rebuking him for not hearing the cry of a fallen child.

    1. thank you Tzvi for that story. What a contrast! The story in footnote 4 certainly needs to be put in context of the far more family friendly story you reminded me about. :)