Yetzer Hatov Or Yetzer Hara: The Danger Of Lessons Unlearned – By Marc

Pushed and pulled… stuck in the middle… head spinning. This is how I feel on a daily basis. The news is hard to digest. 

I constantly check myself to make sure I am actually hearing and seeing certain things. I try to formulate my own opinions without spin or support from the various news media. I fight to make sure I am being objective, or at least as objective as I can be. And I am utterly confounded that we are where we are, and that we are not more unified on certain things. And yet the one thing that keeps me sane through a lot of this is my Judaism and my faith. I am lucky enough to have some great teachers, in person, online and in books. The lessons ground me and give me strength and hope and connection. 

But what happens when the community I so love and need becomes so deeply divided. I have previously described how I am an outlier within my own Jewish circles for not being a supporter of the current administration. If I recall a previous post or two, I have said that DT is great for Israel and bad for Jews. Whenever I have said this to friends, they look at me like I am crazy. 

But never has this statement been more clear to me… and with the President’s recent diagnosis and behavior, the blatant disregard and the horrid name calling, I realized this post goes way beyond politics, and speaks to who we are as human beings, and more specifically, who we are and who we need to be as Jews. It deeply saddens me how divided this country has become, but perhaps even more sad is how divided the Jewish community is. We have lost so much civility toward each other. We have lost the ability to have respectful and open dialogue. We have lost so much.

And we are losing so much in the world. Over one million dead. Over 211,000 dead in this country alone. 

In Israel they are suffering because of COVID and lock downs, and now the Black Flag Movement. 

It is hard to watch the news coming out of Brooklyn, where it seems like two truths are co-existing. That the community is not following the rules and guidelines in the way they must, and that the community is being unfairly targeted. And a Jewish reporter was attacked, name called and physically hit. I need to repeat that… a Jewish reporter was physically attacked by other, fellow Jews. So what do we do? How do we come back together, if not in person and literally, metaphorically? How do we reunite as Jews?

The Jewish people believe in honesty and truthfulness. This is vital for us in all levels of life, from Torah study to everyday living. We believe in doing the right thing, in kindness, empathy and charity. We believe in prayer and study, and in learning from everyone. We believe that science does not act in contradiction to Judaism, but in fact supports it. We believe in returning to our true selves, our true souls.

All of these ideas were just in the most intense focus during the holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. We are getting close to Simchat Torah, where we finish the Torah and then start again. So how do we return to who we are and who we need to be? How do we come back together? How do we start again, as one scroll and one people?This is a post I have been playing in my mind for the last four years, if not longer. It is a post filled with ideas I have been wrestling with for a long time, but exploded within me this past week. And with this article/opinion piece in the JTA, a collection of ideas from a variety of Rabbis, I knew I had to chime in and let it all out. 

COVID is real, people have died, people are sick, the illness lingers. Wear a mask. Keep your distance. Protect your fellow human being. Do unto others what you would have them do to you.

Hillel said it this way: “That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and learn it.”  – Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat31a

“If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?”

And Hillel said, “In a place where there is no humanity, we must yet strive to be humane.”

We must love each other and try to take care of each other. This what Judaism has taught me. It has also shown me to not become what I hate. So we need to make sure we do not hate others or wish them ill. 

Shmuel Hakatan said: “If your enemy falls, do not exult; if he trips, let your heart not rejoice, lest the Lord see it and be displeased, and avert his wrath from him” (Proverbs 24:17).

In the article referenced above, Rabbi David Wolpe said it so brilliantly. “Judaism teaches we should pray for the sick, not for the sick whom we like, and I am mindful of Pirkei Avot 4:19, not to rejoice in the downfall of one’s enemies. I appreciate the savagery of the political divide, but I hope no matter who is suffering with this dangerous disease, we can pray both that they will heal and also that they will learn from the experience, and grow more open-hearted and compassionate, as we hope for all of us in any trial or tragedy.”

So the choice is ours… Do we give up to the yetzer hatov or give in and go down to the yetzer hara? Do we get back to civilized debate and open dialogue and channel the lunches that RBG and Scalia had together, where they and we genuinely like and respect each other? Or do we continue to divide ourselves? Let us not let one person bring us to the brink of no return… of disliking each other so intensely and forget the most important parts of Judaism… That does not mean we cannot be passionate and fight for our opinions and beliefs…  But in the end, we need to part with a hug or handshake, even if it is virtual… and we need to love each other. The idea of saying I love you and I respect you, but I do not agree with you is a great goal… and perhaps we can start each and every conversation and debate with that, and then be open minded and see where things go. 

As Rabbi Noah Weinberg OBM says, “we need to listen with our ears and not our position.”

Again… Hillel focused it all to one idea… one thought that encapsulates not only Judaism, but how human beings should act towards one another… 

That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and learn it.” 

Always do the first thing… always! Devote time to study Torah together with your fellow Jew… Embrace your fellow Jew. Aspire to follow the yetzer hatov. This is a good place to start and to get us all back on the same page, for these are the lessons that must not go unlearned!

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