I read a post that deeply disturbed me, and it has taken a couple of days to sort out the implications of why it was so troubling and what this portends.
A professor of a recent course I had taken reported encountering an unruly group of hundreds of people protesting against Israel in Los Angeles. They were chanting, “Bibi and Hitler are the same; the only difference is the name.” As an educated and intelligent person familiar with employing reason, moderation and facts, he approached one of the protesters to question his narrative, “Whatever you think of Netanyahu and his policies, how can you compare him to Hitler?”
The sign carrier gathered a group of his buddies and asked the professor to meet them at Starbucks to dialogue about their respective viewpoints. The Starbucks symposium went so well, the group began an initiative to counter baseless hatred and violence with rationality and respect. Thousands joined hands and sang, “Kumbaya,” and they taught the world to sing in perfect harmony.
The last paragraph above, as you may have realized, is fiction. More than fiction, it is a delusion. What really happened was that the professor was verbally threatened, grabbed and narrowly escaped injury. I’ve come to the conclusion that I have wasted a lot of time and effort attempting to reason with those who are not reasonable.
When I was in college, many years ago, it was believed that education was the answer to all the world’s ills, with the foregone conclusion that ignorance was the root that needed to be pulled out. But the source of evil is far more ubiquitous and recalcitrant. C* was a family friend enrolled in a Ph.D. program. She was an idealistic individual who set high standards for herself and others, living at a time of idealism with all the passion, naivete and a touch of the arrogance of an intelligent, talented, university educated, “liberated,” woman. One time she confided to me, devastated at the corruption and deviousness occurring in her competitive Ph.D. program, including fellow, “liberated,” women sleeping with faculty in return for preferential treatment, “But, but, they’re highly educated!” So what? Education does not morph a selfish, self-centered person into an altruist, nor does it turn a hateful person kind or a wicked person good. A plethora of well-intentioned failures should evidence this.
Knowledge and education are useful when gaps in these are the major source of problems. A parent may be better able to manage a two-year-old if there is understanding of developmental stages. Simple techniques such as washing hands and boiling water have saved lives. Superstitions continue in our day, such a common occurrence in some parts of the world, where events such as miscarriages or sickness is attributed to witchcraft, and the targeted, “witch,” is a woman who has no male relatives to protect her, and she is forced to flee to a “witch” refuge sanctuary, where she lives in abject poverty, but is protected from murder at the hands of fellow tribe members.
Conversely, an educated person is afforded the opportunity to cover deviousness with sophistication, as twisted rhetoric cloaks villainous intent. This is a sword that cuts both ways. A smart evil person is far more dangerous than a stupid evil person. I would alter the meme, “Don’t underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups,” to, “Don’t underestimate the power of fearful people in large groups.” A scared animal is known to attack and a fearful, beastly person will likewise attack whatever and whoever is located in its path. Those who are of death seek to swallow up those who are of life.
The thin veneer of sheepskin is falling away as the sneering insistence of, “anti-Zionism isn’t antisemitism,” is replaced by the more honest, “Kill the Jews; Jews to the ovens.” Of course, the best lie is the one you want to believe. (Dan Ariely) Don’t we want to believe the best of our fellow man and blame all his wicked behavior on poor parenting, bad genetics, and Twinkies?
How do we tread the fine line between, “Answer a fool according to his folly and he will hate you,” with, “Answer a fool according to his folly or he will be wise in his own eyes?” I believe one needs to recognize that the (moral) fool will respond with invective and sometimes violence (depending upon what he/she can get away with) when countered or opposed, and those with hopes of self-preservation should keep a safe distance while engaging in corrective activities. Yet, it is necessary to stand for truth, accepting what may come. Be careful to gauge the “beast potential,” of those you encounter; you may believe you stand next to a rational human being; he looks at you and salivates before dinner (you).
I believe the only response to those who have symbolically drunk deeply of the serpent’s venom and gorged themselves on the tree of knowledge of good and evil is the warning to Cain. Driven by jealousy, he plotted a devious murder of his only brother; his younger brother who he was designated to protect and care for. Are we our brothers’ keepers? Yes, we are. The warning to Cain by his loving Creator (my unscholarly and personal translation) tells us: Shall you not, with amending and bettering yourself, find a place of dignity and being lifted above all this, and if you don’t do well, don’t do good and are not pleasing (to God) there is a doorway, an opening, an entrance for sin (missing the mark, the target of what is good and right) that lies in wait for you, stretches itself out toward you; it’s powerful, obsessive and ever-expanding desire is to overcome and conquer you. However, toward you and within you an opposing, corresponding measure has been added, so that you have the ability to rule, master, have authority over and govern that desire (channel it appropriately.) You must do this!
But Cain didn’t. As well, few who we warn will overcome that beast whose seed they have welcomed and nurtured. The next verse reveals that the beast-driven may speak to us. Now, don’t take that as a sign of progress. The only reason Cain spoke to his favored brother was to lure him to a place where he could kill him. Think about that prior to planning your next negotiation. If we go on to verse Gen. 4:9, we cannot escape that one who has no qualms about murdering his brother who did nothing to harm him, will feel no guilt or remorse about it afterward, and not be troubled with lying about it.
Skipping to verse 14, I can’t find one translation that appears to convey the correct meaning here. All say, “whoever,” or, “anyone who finds me will kill me.” However, the Hebrew word here is, “kol,” which means, “all.” There is no connotation of whether the reference is to a human or a non-human. Midrash teach that Cain had so lost that b’tselem elohim, the image and reflection of his Creator that made him human, that beasts would no longer maintain the distance they instinctively keep from humans, as they would recognize Cain as a beast like themselves, governed by his instincts and passions, lacking empathy, his reasoning darkened with preference of a lie to truth and a choice to be estranged from both God and his fellow man.
This is not pretty, but it is what we are dealing with.
I would like to somehow end this on a positive note, as the above is rather depressing. We can be progenitors of light and truth in a dark and delusional world, even if our voice is only for a moment; that voice may catch the wind and spread far and wide. The Baal Shem Tov taught that, “from every thing a person hears or sees in this world, he must find a teaching in how Man should serve God. In truth, this is the whole meaning of service…” Tzvi Freeman, “Bringing Heaven Down to Earth.”
- Am I my brother’s keeper?
- Shemini: Chesed to the Stranger
- Prayer for Peace by Rebbe Nachman of Beslov
- All you need is love…and half the tribe of Menashe
- Older and Newer Testament miracles: Equal measures, please
- Life Is A Master Class
- The Beauty (and the Beast) of Chasidus
- Alice Hertz-Sommer: The Secret of Faith