There is an interesting TikTok phenomenon going on right now of people asking/answering the following question:  If your daughter was alone in the wilderness, would you rather that she encounter a bear or an unknown man? 

It seems like a straightforward question, but you might be surprised to hear that a sizable majority of people say that they would prefer that their daughter encounter the bear.  People point out that a bear might only eat you if it’s hungry, while a man’s intentions could be nearly anything…

It is a sad commentary on the nature of human beings that we cause more fear for each other than a literal carnivorous beast.  Yet, it also gives us some insight into a question that many ask on this week’s Torah portion, Acharei Mos. 

The Torah presents a long list of forbidden acts, but many of them are intuitive, perhaps even obvious, to us.  Do we really need the Torah to tell us to not have relations with our close relatives or to not to throw our children into a fire? 

The unfortunate answer is that, yes, we do need the Torah to tell us that.  Before the Torah was given, many people openly did these things. 

You shall not defile yourselves by any of these things, for the nations, whom I am sending away from before you, have defiled themselves with all these things.

Vayikra 18:24

The Canaanites were kicked out of the Land of Israel because they committed all of these horrible acts.

The Torah created the society which frowns upon these acts.  We take it for granted that they are bad only because we follow many generations of people who have lived in a society guided by the Torah’s principles.

But also, don’t fall into the common trap and think that in olden days people were barbarians, but now everyone is civilized.  Remember that this TikTok trend of people preferring to encounter a bear to a man is talking about a man in 2024

That is, the only thing stopping men from becoming barbarians again is staying within the confines of our Torah based civilization.  If someone were to leave that civilization and wander into the wilderness of anonymity, he too might become an animal again.

Or perhaps, even worse than a bear.

Good Shabbos,

Rabbi A and the JET Team