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How A Racist Is Born

08/18/2017 11:22:34 AM

Aug18

“See, I have placed before you the blessed path and the cursed path. The blessed path – when you will obey the commands of the Lord. The cursed path – if you won’t obey the commands of the Lord, and you will worship other gods.”

These are the famous opening verses of this week’s parshat Re’eh. Though they seem straightforward, two questions come to mind:

1. With regards to the blessed path, the Torah says “… when you will obey…”, whereas with regards to the cursed path the Torah says, “… if you won’t obey…”?

2. One can understand that the blessed path belongs to those who obey G-d and the cursed path belongs to those who don’t obey G-d. But why does the Torah continue to allege that if one doesn’t obey, then they will worship other gods? Isn’t it possible to simply disobey G-d without becoming idolatrous?

It is axiomatic to Jewish thought that all humans are presented with the power of free choice. For life to have purpose, we must have the ability to choose whether to do good or to do evil, to love or to hate, to be giving or to be selfish, to be arrogant or to be humble, to be peaceful or to be violent.

And yet, in the subtlest of ways, the Torah teaches us that choosing to do good will always be a little more natural than choosing to do evil. It’s as if it has been predicted that Mankind will choose the blessed path, notwithstanding the fact that we have the equal choice to follow the cursed path. Hence the Torah’s change of words, “… the blessed path when you will choose… the cursed path if you will choose…”.

If we take a wide-angled view of world history, we can see that this is indeed the case. Overall, Mankind has made more noble choices than wicked ones. More people have dedicated their lives to following the blessed path than those who have chosen the opposite. Our world today is a much better one than millennia ago. The technologies we have created to advance the quality and length of life, and the laws and policies many have instituted to protect life and liberties, are a complete blessing versus the state of human existence back then.

However, the cursed path is still - and has always been – an available option. We know too well about many who have followed this path throughout history. But if choosing the blessed path is innately more natural to all humans, how and why did so many choose so unnaturally?

The reason why choosing the blessed path comes more natural to us is because we are created in the Image of G-d, and since G-d is the source and embodiment of good, so too are we more inclined to follow that way. It follows, therefore, that when a person chooses to defile their Divine image, then no longer are they innately inclined towards behaving like G-d.

And how can a person defile their Divine image? By replacing it with another god. In fact, casting off one’s connection with their Divine image is itself an act of worshipping another god. Whether the foreign god is another entity, or whether it is oneself, it serves as a complete blockage to one’s connection with the true G-d. And once one is no longer connected to the true G-d, there is no telling how they will behave. In their eyes, they get to decide what is right and wrong. They can even turn evil into a virtue.

This week we have been witness to the most despicable and evil human behavior. From Charlottesville Virginia, to Barcelona Spain, we saw shameless violence and bloodshed. We saw people march to horrific chants, we saw ugly hatred and terrorism, we saw racism and anti-Semitism. We saw people choose to follow the cursed path. And we saw how they made that choice – because they strayed from the true G-d and worshipped other gods. Some of them worship a false god in heaven who – in their view - rewards murder, and others worship their own selves by considering themselves as the arbiters of who and what is good or bad.

There is a lot of panic and hysteria across the nation. Personally, as a student of world history, and as a Jew who is mindful of our own history, I’m sadly not so shocked. These kinds of evil have existed since the beginning of time. What I’m more interested in is how the rest of us – the majority – are reacting. In every generation, those who follow the blessed path have been the cause for the overall success of humanity. Their sincere efforts in recognizing the true G-d and obeying His commands have kept the scale positively imbalanced, have outshined the forces of darkness, and have ensured that the villains become relegated to just a memory.

Following the blessed path means to live outstandingly and courageously by exemplifying the Divine traits. To be wise, and not fooled – by others or ourselves. To be kind, and less self-centered. To be loving and accepting, and less judgmental of those who are different than us. To be humble and honest, and not to make our own decisions of right and wrong. To be committed, in our relationship with G-d and with others. To be faithful, and to believe that everything will be okay. To appreciate that all of us were created by G-d, and that G-d needs each one of us equally to create a perfect world.

One final point: A lot of political discord has entered the national conversation. Whilst many of the arguments may be fair or correct, it is also incumbent upon us to come together in unison, no matter your political opinions. When we are divided, terrorism wins hands down. And that’s why I urge you to join us in Shul this Shabbat. Our Shul is a politics-free zone. It’s the place where we join together and focus on what unites us (and it’s not just our enemies!). It’s where we will pray together for Heather Heyer and those killed in Barcelona, for all the injured, and for all their families. It’s where we will study and socialize, strengthen and inspire each other to bravely continue following the blessed path.

The cursed path may be possible to travel alone. But the blessed path can only be travelled with others alongside us.

Shabbat Shalom!

Wed, December 19 2018 11 Tevet 5779