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getting along

06/18/2020 06:52:55 PM


Rabbi Jeffrey Myers

The simplistic question, “Can’t everybody just get along” has been asked rhetorically, and clearly answered with a resounding “no”. While I have been gratified to see images of so many white people engaged in protests and rallies, they are the choir that does not need to be preached to. Isn’t that always the case? Our human history is replete with wars and the need for one civilization or society to rule over another. Is this a function of our DNA, something that we cannot change?

After Noah exits the ark, he offers a sacrifice to God in gratitude for being saved. God savors the aroma, but remarks in a rather tragic way: the devisings of man’s mind are evil from his youth [JPS translation]. There you have it. God admits what we don’t want to admit. Or does God?

The Hebrew phrase is yetzer lev ha-adam ra, and he we find ourselves introduced to a novel pair of words, yetzer and ra. An entire philosophy developed over the concept of this “evil inclination”, and the commentators fought back by insisting that there must also be a yetzer tov, a good inclination. Both of them are eternally at war inside us, each one seeking dominance. Compare it to the cartoon of a small e angel on the right shoulder and the small devil on the left shoulder. Each one whispers into the ear of the human being in an attempt to convince the person to follow their suggestions. Whichever choice the human makes, the winning creature gloats as the other is dejected. Is this indeed our reality? Do we have an internal semblance of both, advising us and pushing us towards their particular goals? Can we control these inclinations? Are good people able to permanently banish the evil inclination? Can bad people ever let the good inclination in?

Just when we think that people with a long history cannot get along, I read an article about the Hotel Corona in Tel Aviv. The Israeli military commandeered many hotels, empty due to the virus, and established them as quarantined buildings for those infected, until such time as they had recovered and tested negative for the virus twice. In this particular hotel, Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs were thrust together. Despite initial qualms, over a short period of time, the Arabs and the Jews, stuck together for quite a bit of time, began to talk with each other. This led to eating meals together, singing each other’s songs, laughing with each other. In a remarkable display of community, while the Orthodox who were quarantined set up a private Seder, the remainder worked with the staff that was present to set up a communal Seder, and even the Orthodox pitched in to help move chairs and tables. Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs sat together and celebrated the Passover Seder together. Ultimately, as those quarantined were discharged, this brief view of a utopian society where everyone got along was disbanded. Not lost on all of these former patients was the potential to exist together in harmony, despite historic differences. What ensues afterward will be interesting to learn. I hope that there is some sort of follow up.

This article gave me hope, for it showed that when you get down to basics, we are all the same. I hope and pray that the same can be said for America. We have different backgrounds, but in the end, we are all the same: human beings. And each of us must be treated equally. May the One who creates peace in the Heavens, inspire us and teach us how to make peace here in America. Amen.

Sun, July 12 2020 20 Tammuz 5780