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negative momentum

05/18/2023 10:39:22 AM


Rabbi Jeffrey Myers

It is time to revisit a math lesson from long ago. Let’s take the number -5. If we add the number -3 to it, will the answer be -2, -8, or none of the above? The correct answer would be -8. When you add a negative number to another negative number that number increases. The only way to eliminate a negative number is to add to it a positive number. So too with the H word, as the continued rise in both H speech and actions just leaves me scratching my head, for clearly far too many people forgot the math lesson above.

It can be easy when you are headed in a negative direction to continue to pile on more negatives, as though you are unable to see positives that can change your direction. But in the end, piling negatives upon negatives does not end with a positive outcome. Ever. Pouring a flammable substance upon an existent flame might create an “ooh and ah” moment, but it also increases the potential for a very serious, even life-threatening, situation. When someone speaks or acts in an antisemitic way, it can be easy to attack that person in some manner, verbally or even physically, but it does nothing to eliminate the antisemitism. When a candidate for office disparages an opponent, without modeling a higher level of professionalism and what they stand for, they are speaking to us from a place of fear. They are afraid of losing, and their true selves are what we see in this case.

Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi, the compiler of the Mishnah, taught the following in Pirkei Avot 2:1: Weigh the loss incurred in performing a mitzvah against the gain; conversely, weigh the gain of an aveirah (sin) against the loss. He subtly reverses loss and gain in both instances, perhaps to have us consider not merely the short-term effect of an action, mitzvah/aveirah, but more importantly the long-term effect. The potentially dangerous thrill of a sin is short-lived; the long-term consequences may last a lifetime. When we opt for the positive number, we might not think of the far greater negative number. This choice may lead to related bad choices, growing a negative momentum that seems unstoppable. H is precisely that way. It grows and grows without any hindrances, until the individual is so inflamed that there will not be a good ending. H corrodes from the inside, growing like a cancer, until it takes over the body, affecting all the words and deeds of its host. The relationship is not symbiotic. The H becomes a juggernaut, destroying everything in its path, including the host.

We see more and more examples of H on a daily basis, and this diet is not good for us. It impacts our mental state, and makes us wonder if there are any people out there doing good. If there are, why don’t we ever hear about them? Scrolling through any news feeds, be it on television, in print, or on-line, just continues this negative momentum. Surfing through the movie collections of any streaming service, the preponderance of films are violent. It has become so time-consuming to find something good out there, but, it is worth the effort. It is worth finding good news, something that uplifts, for that brings joy and we remember it all day. Finding a good film that has a positive message does the same thing. Reflecting on the above selection from Pirkei Avot, it may take longer, but the gain is greater. It does take effort, but we are also capable of positive momentum, and the gain is worth it.

Thu, June 1 2023 12 Sivan 5783