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.

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