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How to Fight Evil

01/08/2021 02:42:29 PM


I was asked by my friend and colleague Rabbi Evan Schultz, “How do we fight evil?”  This was in response to the following Facebook post I put up this week:

As I watch what is going on in D.C. I can only describe it as evil. It violates all standards of acceptable protest. Dissenting opinions are important but there must be parameters and we must all accept them. That is the only path. How we get somewhere is often more important than where we are going. Do not follow evil.

לא תהיה אחרי רבים לרעות

“Do not be a follower of the majority for evil;”(Exodus 23:2) The plain meaning of these words is that even if you see a vast majority of people acting in a forbidden manner, do not make the fact that they constitute the norm an excuse to follow in their footsteps.

Torah Commentary by Rabbi Bachya ben Asher, trans. Eliyahu Munk, 1998.

This was my response to him:

So, first the good news: evil can be fought. Now for the less good news: fighting evil requires a dynamic response, not a static one. I wish there was a way that I could offer you a nice, simple, ten word answer. I wish there was something I could say, a rallying cry, five words that would give the answer to your question and galvanize us to fight evil.

Truth is, as you know and are all too aware, the problem of evil requires not simple solutions but complex ones.  However, I will say all of these answers at their core require action on the part of the good.

I am happy to start the conversation, but I do not pretend that the answers I am about to put forth are enough or cover the wide array of actions that need to be taken.  My hope is that you, I and others will continue to have this conversation and throw out ideas, because no one thing is going to fix the problem.

The first thing we need to do is overcome apathy and a feeling of disempowerment.  A favorite quote of mine from Midrash Tanhuma:

"If a person... sits in his home and says to himself, “What have the affairs of society to do with me?... Why should I trouble myself with the people’s voices of protest? Let my soul dwell in peace!”—if he does this, he destroys the world." Peace and quiet are not the same thing.  We need to get people to realize that apathy destroys the world.

Second, destroying evil does not work to end evil. Consider Noah and the flood or Korach and his rebellion or the sin of the golden calf. Every time God tries to wipe out evil it just sprouts up again. To combat evil is to be a gardener.  Like gardening, ensuring evil does not overtake us requires diligence, understanding, wisdom and constant care. The fight against evil is an ongoing one every day. When we begin to neglect evil, when we begin to ignore evil, we allow it to take hold and gain power.

Third, recognize that evil wants us to compromise our own values and standards of what is acceptable and what is unacceptable in order to win. Evil wants us to cross the line, because once we do we lose who we are and they win. Evil wants us to say that our values are completely subjective, then it can say that you don't stand for anything. We need to clearly define what is unacceptable to us.   We need to articulate the lines that cannot be crossed and hold ourselves to those standards. No society can function if everything is fair game and we do need to say what is not fair game.

Last, for now we need to organize, we need to get together. One thing evil is really good at is getting together with other evil.  Too often good stands or feels alone. What happened on Wednesday was evil teaming up and gathering together. The good need to get together and organize the way the evil does.

I will be interested in hearing your thoughts.

Tue, January 26 2021 13 Shevat 5781