Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Key

There are many components of my character I would like to change. Problem is that change is such a daunting enterprise and there are so many areas in which I need to improve. It would be great if I could find a key, one place I could work on and improve that would remedy everything else.
And alas I found it. If there is a key to charactological change, if there is one enhancement that can affect many many parts of our personality it is the ability to accept that which happens to us as for the best. In the terms of tradition, it is to say no matter what befalls us, "Gam zu l'tova", "This too is for the good".

Think about it. My tendency to get moody or angry or despondent when things don't go my way, will simply disappear if I truly accept that all that happens to me, even if not to my liking, is in fact for the good. I will not longer be resentful or even jealous of others, since what I have is what is meant for me, and what not was never meant to be mine. I will not carry grudges. After all nothing anyone did to me, even if their behavior was in itself wrong, was not coming to me. Why should I then hold on to bad feelings towards them.
The way I see it, change the way I respond to the circumstances of my life and I can become over-all a much better person.

Yet "this too is for the good" does not seem to always be the value endorsed by tradition.
Tonight is Purim (for me In Jerusalem tomorrow night). One clear theme of Purim and of the Shabbat which precedes it is to hate the Amalekites and to commit ourselves
their total annihilation. Yet we might wonder, if we are called upon to experience even the wrong that occurrs in the light of "gam zu l'tova" then why hate Amalek? Why is Haman so villified? What he did, his intentions, were for the good. After all, "this too is for the good".

I think we need to spend a bit more time reflecting on our "key" to a better psyche.
I mean, even though we are encouraged to see all that happens to us as for the good, that does not mean we should whitewash evil! When a husband abuses his wife its absurd to believe she is meant to smile at her husband and say "gam zu l'tova".It is not conceivable that we should love the perpetrator of acts of evil because we put a positive spin on the outcome.

The truth is that even if we bless the things in our life that were not what we wanted we still need to call the act itself "evil". For us it may be a good, but the act itself could certainly be evil, especially if the wrong-doer intended us harm. "Gam zu l'tova" does not mean we should minimize the evil done in the world whether to us or to others. We need to call out evil and brand as evil those who do evil and intend harm to others. Haman was evil, even if what he intended brought about great good for the Jewish People. His intended harm turned out very much for the good as it brought about a national renewal for the Jewish People and a rebirth of our spirit. Haman's plot is the perfect example of "gam zu l'tova. It engendered a renaissance unprecedented in our history. But that does not make Haman's designs less perverse or him less wicked. We are clear on Purim to distinguish between the thanksgiving for the wondrous results of the season and the expressions of hate towards the character who initiated the process with designs for our destruction.

And the same is true for Amalek. Their attack of our ancestors in the wilderness shortly after leaving Egypt, an attack without any provocation and motivated purely by hate, was an ultimate expression of evil. It warranted our eternal hatred.
Yet the impact of their attack was to foster a solidarity of the fledgeling nation, even as Haman's plot would do all those centuries later. It was after the Israelites defeated Amalek in a fierce battle at Refeedim that we read the nation travelled from Refeedim and came to Mount Sinai. The Talmud interprets the text to teach that this was the one time in the entire wilderness journey that the People were "as one person with one heart". That was the prerequisite for the giving of the Torah which was to occurr a few days later. And all this was made possible by the battle with Amalek at Refeedem where the evil intended for us fostered in response a national unity. Again here, while it's clear "gam zu l'tova" it does not make any less nefarious the Amalekite attack.

In truth we need to find ways to embrace the circumstances of our lives. We need to find ways to accept both the big disappointments and the little as being what was meant for us...that it really could not have been otherwise. When my plane gets delayed or when my stock takes a tumble I need to find a way to believe it for the good. And even when someone else causes me harm, a harm I do not feel I deserve, my life will be enhanced if I can get past being resentful and find the means to bless the evil act as a good. But at the same time we need to be vigilant to name evil intent for what it is and to condemn it. We cannot minimize the harm of another and excuse them saying "it turned out or will turn out for the good". An abusive husband, to the extent he is unrepentent, is evil. He should be despised. A parent who harms his/her child with no remorse is to be condemned without qualification.
Gam zu l'tova, while true, does not bleach the evil out of an act with evil intent.

So I am determined. I am determined to change my character and improve by blessing the bad things that happen to me as being ultimately for the good, even if it is not clear to me exactly how in the moment. Looking back on my life, looking back on the history of our People only serves to confirm that so much of that which happened, even if not desired, was indeed for the good. I can believe in the small and large of today that it too, should not upset me even if it does not go my way.
But nice guy though I hope to be, I will not be silent in the face of wrong-doing.
I will call out evil as evil and combat it where I can.

Purim is not only my chag. It is my teacher. And this year its lesson will hopefully make for a happier and better me.

Chag Samayach
Shabbat Shalom

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