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Evil and Life's Cartoons #749

10/21/2022 06:33:52 PM

Oct21

Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Parashat Bereishit: “God saw that it was good.” 

Evil and Life's Cartoons

 

As I grew up, Saturday morning was one of the best times of the week.

During my pre-adolescent years, before my father began “encouraging” me to attend synagogue, I would park myself in front of the TV, locked into Rocky and BullwinkleUnderdog, Dudley Do-Right and Tom Terrific.

They were different shows, but as I think about it now, I find it interesting that they shared a similar theme.

Each program portrayed a central struggle between good and evil. Rocky and Bullwinkle constantly battled Boris and Natasha. Tom Terrific had Crabby Appleton, Dudley Do-Right fought with Snidley Whiplash - and so on.

Later, as I sat with my children watching Strawberry ShortcakeCare Bears or My Little Pony, a similar theme emerged: Good people will perpetually be challenged by evil.

And the same theme holds true these days, as my granddaughter and I watch programs, such as Spidey and His Friends, who continuously combat a cadre of arch enemies.

The big mystery for me - then and now - is why are these villains so evil by nature? Who or what made them that way?

In part, the answer stems from a non-Jewish concept based on  the premise that in this world, there exists a perpetual fight between the forces of good – God – and the eternal agents of evil.

Judaism does not look at the world this way. There is no epic battle between good and evil – only love.

In my youth, I once asked a rabbi whether evil exists, and if not, how do we explain why so many human beings consistently act badly?

He replied, “We are all Cadillacs. It’s just that some of us have more mud on the chrome. Some need a car wash more than others.”

He noted that within Judaism, the phrase, “The devil made me do it,” does not exist. Rather, each of us is responsible for our own acts – both good and not so good.

How do we know this? The Torah tells us this week that goodness is woven into the very fabric of creation.

“In the beginning,” the Torah says, “God created the heaven and the earth.”

The Torah then describes five more days of creation, and Shabbat. And at the end of every weekday, the Torah reports, “God saw that it was good.” Indeed, the world begins with positivity.

The Torah does not quote any villainous voice claiming otherwise. 

No one declares: “No its not!” or “You’re naïve.” or “You don’t understand human nature.” or “Watch your back.” or “Don’t trust anyone!”

The Torah only says, “It was good.”

This is an important distinction between Judaism and many other religions: That this world is not based on some central battle – between God and an active dark force.

In many ways, that is the journey we recently took between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Do we mess up from time to time? Absolutely.

Do we encounter people who push us to the limit – who will never change – whom we can’t change? Of course. 

We live. We stray. We learn. We fix. We pick ourselves up. We grow.

We sometimes miss the mark. We are sometimes impatient, sometimes short tempered. We don’t always listen when someone is talking to us, but that’s not evil. As that rabbi once shared with me - it’s just us in need of a car wash.

In the 1982 book, The One Minute Manager, Ken Blanchard makes a shocking declaration. He claims there is no such thing as a bad employee, only bad managers.

In part, he is saying that when we attempt to catch friends, family, workmates, employees doing something wrong, they often become meet that lowly expectation.

But when we lovingly encourage them to do something right, more often than not, they rise to that level of good.

Many people today suffer from the aftermath of that old style child rearing, where we were “corrected at every turn.” But that rarely nurtured the best in us.

For within each of us there exists something brilliant and unique that only we can contribute to the world.

It therefore is up to each one of us to bring out the best in each other — and in ourselves.

No evil - just good ready to be discovered.

How interesting it is that this narrative of good versus evil has carried over to other arenas. Too many these days demonize those with different beliefs or perspectives.

We too often judge “the other,” as we did when we watched cartoons. There is only black and white. Rarely is there grey.

At its core, Judaism teaches that discussion, debate and the appreciation of someone else’s perspective can complete creation.

As the Talmud teaches, this world will not be perfected through battling truths, but rather through understanding and compromise. It maintains that often, the real villain lies within us. 

The Talmud also teaches that both “these words and those words are the words of the living God.” In other words, there is some truth in every opinion as long as it is expressed – L’Shem Shamayim -- in the name of heaven.

The Torah inspires us this week to consider that this earth and everything and everyone within was created good. 

It would do us well to consider that, as we engage with others.  

Indeed, there exists within this world, plenty of room for differences of opinion. Let us also remember that not every person who disagrees with us is a villain, stereotype or a caricature.

For this is still a wonderful world. 

I know because God said so. And I believe in God.

Shabbat Shalom, v'kol tuv.
Rabbi Irwin Huberman

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Sun, November 27 2022 3 Kislev 5783