Long week. I know time cannot be properly perceived from a three-dimensional perspective, but I didn’t think it could feel so long. Or be so exhausting. However, I was treated to a delightful morning today, able to attend services bright and early, bathed in the brisk winds of a coast-crossing hurricane. It really was lovely weather save for the humid heat. And the melodies, the Torah reading, the discussions during kiddush. It really was a good way to start the day.
2.16 Rabbi Yehoshua taught:
The begrudging eye, the evil impulse,
and hatred of one’s fellow human beings
will ruin a person’s life.
I don’t know every word, that’s a trend, but I can make sense of a few. And with an understanding of the Hebrew, this isn’t at all as simple as it first appears. Reading the English, I was about to say, We’ve discussed this all before, but peering into the Hebrew, I see a whole new world unraveling.
The evil eye. I did speak of this before, and I said I felt it implies what we see–the things we notice, the images we save in our souls. If we see darkness in the world, there will be darkness. If we see evil, there will be evil. That which we lend our power will come into the world. If only in how we respond, our influence will shape those things in our vicinity (which will bleed outward and shape those things beyond our reach), and if we see the world for all the bad things within it, that is the anathema that will spread throughout the world we create.
But is seeing such a choice? Is it an affliction to be dealt with or a path to be turned from? I once read that people who are depressed have a more realistic view of the world (the correlation, however, is no indication of causation), but is it merely depression that causes one’s eye become “bad”? I hope to doubt so, but can we really know?
Depressed or not, whether a realist or not, I think we all have a measure of choice. For many long years I insisted that I’m only an optimist because the alternative isn’t as pleasant (a truth I still abide by, even though optimism has become a force of habit since then), but how we allow ourselves to react will shape how we think. I used to think the worst of everything; if a moment of happiness came before me, I would instantly see precisely how it culd come crashing down. I filled my mind with thoughts of happier alternatives, made myself smile in even the most uncomfortable situations, and “put on a happy face” even when I didn’t want to, and it’s paid off.
People tell me I’m approachable, I’m sincere, I’m welcoming and pleasant and fun to be around. I don’t doubt they’re being honest, but that just means they don’t see the darker insecurities and lack of comfort swimming underneath. For the most part, neither do I: My mind is filled, by choice, with happier things. It’s what I need to do to keep my own sanity. It is possible to do. And if you’ve got an Ayin HaRah, you can do it, too.
The evil impulse. The evil inclination. I first learned this saying in my study of the Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, another way of interpreting scripture that brings it to a more spiritual sense, one of the key facets of the study that appealed to me (and still does). It mentions the Yetzer HaRah and the Yetzer Tov, the two forces inside each of us that pull us in opposing directions. One inclines us to evil, the other inclines us to good. However, “evil” is only one interpretation. In fact, some rabbinic scholars equate the Yetzer HaRah not with evil, but with passion.
How does passion destroy life?
It’s fairly simple: Too much passion is blinding, crippling, killing. Need I say much more than it is the unadulterated, insufferable passion that fuels extremists in all areas of politics and religion? If not for their unabiding passion, their belief that their passions are properly paramount to their positions, would they be extreme at all?
Passion is a good thing. It is the force that drives us to love, to explore, to create; the force that leads us to lead others, to teach others, to be the best we can be. But if boiled over, passions can corrupt. Love can turn to obsession, to rape and abuse; exploration and creation can become greed and destruction; teaching and leading can mutate into manipulation and false-influence that turns people further from the truth than when they began.
Passion is a dangerous double-edged sword with no quillon to keep our fingers safe from the sharpened steel. One slip, and all we hold onto will be severed. We’ll be a mess of blood and bone and flesh.
That is the danger of unhinged passion. That is the life-ruining force we’re warned against.
Although I recognize sinat as the word for hatred, “HaBriyot” is a modifier I’m not altogether certain of. If I’m not mistaken, it shares the same root as the verb “Barah,” which means “create,” and would therefore imply that Sinat HaBriyot means “Hatred of Creation,” implying of course those creations of God. Man, beast, earth. Hatred at its most complete.
Hatred is a foul thing. It spreads like poison through a vein, like acid down a stream, leaving a stain upon everything it touches. Though we can turn to it with a face of love, there is no one that can say they are not tainted by hatred, whether they resist its pull or not. At any moment of time there’s any number of things that we dislike, and I like to believe few of these ever deteriorate to unabashed hatred, but when they do, it spreads violently.
And faster than we can stop it.
It is hatred, the primary weapon of fear, that spreads animosity and discontent most easily. It is a hard fiend to vanquish, a challenging opponent to put down, and I don’t know anyone who has ever truly mastered their hatred and caused it to submit. But simply recognizing the challenge it poses to us, and by simply keeping our eyes open to the risks we are all subjected to, we can stop ourselves before we run away with hate. We can remind ourselves to love, that we are loved, that everyone deserves even an ounce of love. And even if it takes a hundred years to expel that hatred, if we never stop trying to rid ourselves of it, we will never succumb to it either.
The teaching’s last line seems simple enough in the English, but there’s a footnote right where my Hebrew skills leave me that says it’s more literally translated not as “will ruin a person’s life” but rather as “takes a person out of the world.” And when you look back at the three things I’ve discussed–at choosing to see the world for all the bad and not the good, at letting our passions overwhelm and control us, and at failing to recognize the potential for hatred in even the purest of hearts–to think that these things do not merely ruin lives, but takes us out of the world itself leaves a completely inverted impression of the teaching.
What does it mean that we are taken out of the world? Does it mean we have forsaken our rights to heaven, if as individuals we each believe in such an afterlife? Does it mean we have called Death to our doorpost for an early release? Or does it mean something more ethereal, less tangible, that by following these foreign footsteps we have removed ourselves from the things that make the world what it is meant to be?
It is this last position I think is meant by all of these things. Pessimism is not altogether unhelpful: Being able to recognize the bad in life allows us to more completely appreciate the good, allows us to plan ahead and to safeguard ourselves from the potential dangers that threaten us. Plentiful passion is not altogether to be avoided: The total freedom that a few moments of endless passion present to us can create such incredible works of art and ideology that to forsake these possibilities would be as foolish as to get carried away by them. And pointless hatred, in fact any hatred at all, can be transformed into indignation that can inspire us to change the world for the better.
These things on their own are not altogether sinful or evil, but when taken together, when not controlled by insight and a positive outlook, they can take us out of this world. They can place us in our own universe, so far removed from what is pleasant and worthwhile that nothing seems tangible anymore. Yes, they can take us out of this world, but the places where they take us are not places we would want to be, and trust me, the journey back is not an easy one to make.