Good Can Lead Us
Good Can Lead Us
From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon
During Passover and in anticipation of Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, I was asked the question, “Where can hate lead us?” It’s easy to respond to the question because hate’s mission is to destroy. But rather than respond to the question as it was asked, I chose to put the emphasis, not on “hate,” but on “lead.” I replied, “Hate can’t lead us anywhere. Hate destroys our ability to see where good can lead us, instead.”
The question assumes that hate is here to stay, that it’s become the default in our communities, and that we have to learn how to follow it. What an awful state of mind and what a terrible fate if we’ve assumed that we have to accept it. Of all the lessons we’ve learned in Judaism, one that speaks to this crisis of our times is this, “The entire world is but a narrow bridge; the most important thing is not to be afraid” (attributed to Rav Nachman). Hate breeds fear, but Nachman’s teaching urges us not to be overwhelmed by fear.
In a 19th century study, a psychologist and a physician posited what came to be known as the James-Lange theory. It taught us that we don’t run because we’re afraid; rather, we’re afraid because we run. So, what if we didn’t run? What if we faced the fear that was produced by hate? A result is that the word “lead” would become an important weapon against hate. It would restore our faith that good is not only better, but also worth advocating for in difficult times.
One way to speak our Truth is to break down misconceptions with facts and understanding. In the same conversation, I was asked how to respond to this generation about the 6 million Jews who died in the Holocaust. My response began by making clear that 6 million Jews didn’t just “die” in the Holocaust; they were systematically murdered in a program the Nazis called the Final Solution. There’s a difference between those who die in war and those who are marched to the crematoria, slaughtered on the edge of open pits, and tortured to death.
Now that Passover is done, an answer to these critical questions about hate begins with identifying ourselves as ones who were enslaved in Egypt, were redeemed by God’s might and wonders, and led by God’s faithful prophet, Moses, to a place where freedom to live in covenant with God could begin. In addition, the Exodus story is a human story that’s relatable to every American whose origins began in another land and whose destiny was bound to unfold in America. Moses, it turns out, is America’s prophet, according to Bruce Feiler, who wrote on this theme in “America’s Prophet: How the Story of Moses Shaped America” (William Morrow, 2009).
Our community’s oral stories about our families’ journeys produce similar narratives about struggles that are physical, emotional, and spiritual. The color of one’s skin, the land of origin from which one came, and the faith that one keeps, are all part of the tapestry that is the marvel of America. And though hate produced some of what we know about America, today, it can’t define us if we’re prepared to create real understanding, deep insights, and new opportunities. Hate has nothing to do with what we have yet to be.
As Shabbat begins, ask yourself what can you face today, without fear, for the sake of tomorrow? Ask everyone who cares, where can “good” lead us?