Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Two Great Evils

There are two great evils that all good people must combat at this time:

1) Human Evil

2) Our Evil Inclination

The first, human evil, is represented primarily by the despotic regimes of the world, such as Iran and North Korea, and various terrorist organizations, such as al-Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah. Those involved in human evil go to great lengths to carry out murderous acts that benefit only themselves and their twisted ideologies of death and destruction.

While most of us don't have to directly confront these people on the battlefield, there are many who do. We all owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to every man and woman - particularly from the American military and Israeli Defense Forces - who is fighting today's human evil. Please remember to keep these courageous people in your thoughts and prayers. Their heroic efforts and sacrifice should never be taken for granted.

The second, our evil inclination, or yetzer hara, is something we all confront. It can manifest itself in various ways, but I would like to focus solely on the ethical/interpersonal since it affects every person with whom we interact. We have to fight our inclination that compels us to hate and be indecent toward those in our everyday lives.

While the former can be fought militarily, the latter can be overcome through strength of character. This is best possible when we prioritize our values. And the preeminent value of Judaism (as articulated by both Hillel and Rabbi Akiva, among others) is "Love your neighbor as yourself."

I am always impressed when I see someone who consistently treats people with dignity and respect. It's very easy to judge people based on appearance, level of religiosity, political affiliation and so on. It's more difficult to keep in mind how we would like to be treated, and then treat other people with that same level of decency. But when we do so, something amazing happens: we spread goodness.

With all the evil and evil people in the world today, the world needs more goodness and good people. This is generally referred to as tikkun olam, repairing the world. Anyone with a clear conscience can sense that the world is upside down but often feels powerless as to what they can do about it. So here's a God-based, time-tested suggestion: treat every individual you encounter in a manner that reflects the way you would want to be treated.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Introduction

I started this blog because there is a need to address the lack of unity among the Jewish people. While this will not be a romantic, utopian vision of all Jews loving each other, it will be a feasible outlook toward improved interpersonal conduct. My understanding of unity is not where everyone is the same and therefore there is no divisiveness. Rather, it's where everyone is individually unique but form an effective whole through decent behavior. This is only possible when we focus on our common code of ethics - not our different political views or ritual observances.

Throughout my life, I have seen a tendency for fellow Jews - religious and secular alike - to force others into thinking and living the way they deem appropriate. While there is nothing wrong with influencing others to live their lives a certain way, forcing others to be just like you (and then treating them less decently if they decide otherwise) is terribly wrong. For some Jews, one's level of ritual observance is the ultimate issue. For others, political affiliation is the most important thing in life. In too many instances, our priorities are out of whack.

I contend that God cares about the way we treat one another more than anything else. If all of us subscribe to this simple belief - which does not entail leaving or joining any specific denomination of Judaism - unity is possible. In the posts to come, I hope to elaborate on this idea and provide some timely examples and commentary on this topic.