This is the law about beast and bird and every
living creature that moves through the waters and every creature that
swarms on the ground, to make a distinction between the unclean and
the clean and between the living creature that may be eaten and the
living creature that may not be eaten. (Vayikra / Leviticus 11:46-47;
I don't like sales people, especially the ones that phone me or
come to my door. I am not proud to admit that I have been downright
rude at times. I don't trust them. They tell me they're not selling
anything when they are, they say that their pitch will take five
minutes, when actually they want my attention for an hour or more.
They pretend to be nice, but demonstrate no sensitivity whatsoever to
me, the potential customer whom they claim to be serving.
The word to describe how I relate to sales people is
"prejudice." It means to "pre-judge"; to make a
prior judgment of someone based on something about them. People used
to make a lot of fuss about prejudice. We were taught, and rightly so,
that we should not pre-judge someone on the basis of their skin color,
for example. We were taught, rightly so, that a person's ethnic
background didn't mean that they were good or bad, intelligent or not,
and so on. We were encouraged, rightly so, to get to know people
before making any determinations with regard to their character or
Today, we don't hear much about prejudice. Now it's
"discrimination." Discrimination has become one of the
greatest evils of all. It's not enough to only avoid pre-judging
someone, we are told not to judge them-period. Instead of learning to
treat all people fairly, which was the goal of confronting prejudice,
we are expected to treat everyone the same. Current
anti-discrimination philosophy insists that we make no moral judgment
on anyone ever (except possibly on me for saying so!).
What many don't realize is that discrimination, far from being the
natural outcome of the movement against prejudice, it's actually the
cure. The reason why people are prejudiced is that they haven't
learned to effectively discriminate.
Discrimination is the act of discerning differences and acting upon
them. Discrimination is absolutely necessary in life. It is what keeps
us from eating poison, or making dangerous wrong turns, or pursuing
destructive relationships. Without it everything looks the same and
everything is treated the same.
Now, I am aware that one of the definitions for
"discriminate" is "to unfairly treat a person or group
of people differently from other people or groups" (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/discriminate).
I know enough about words to understand that they mean what they mean
based on how people use them and that discriminate is being used to
describe this kind of injustice. I believe that God calls us to be
against this kind of discrimination. The problem I am addressing,
however, is that using this word in this way is fomenting moral
confusion in our culture.
The cure for what is being labeled as discrimination is not
avoiding discrimination, but learning to properly practice it. This is
because not everything is the same. This is what God is teaching the
people of Israel in this week's parasha (English: weekly Torah
portion). The people needed to "make a distinction between the
unclean and the clean." The Hebrew for "make a
distinction" is ba-dal', meaning "to separate, make
distinction, distinguish." When they looked over the animal
kingdom, they were to distinguish between those animals permitted for
consumption and those that were not. They were not all the same. These
laws were a special part of Israeli Old Covenant culture designed to
drum into the psyche of the people the principal of discernment or, as
we might say, discrimination.
If I would learn this important lesson, then perhaps I
wouldn't be so hard on sales people. My problem has been my being
prejudiced against them with no desire to discriminate. I usually
don't want to take the time to discern the nature of the various sales
calls I receive. I want to treat them all the same. More than once I
have almost ended conversations with people that I really did want to
talk due to my lack of discrimination.
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