EVIL: Own it and Make Noise
Choosing a topic for a D’var Torah wasn’t an easy task this week. This week we read Parashat Tzav, which this year, because it’s a leap year, falls in the month of Adar, so tomorrow in addition to Parashat Tzav we will read Parashat Parah. This week we all have in mind the tragedy and the horror that filled the streets of Europe. It is very challenging not to talk about what’s going on in Israel, where we are suffering what seems to be the third Intiffada. And on top of all this, we just celebrated Purim.
Purim, what an interesting holiday. A story for which we have no real evidence, but many important messages and possibilities to reflect. We challenge ourselves by trying to let our daily costumes come down, and by questioning the things that hide us, while celebrating the victory of goodness over evil.
So what is evil? Or what is the representation of evil in this story? Haman. Haman the wicked man. For Purim’s story it is very clear. But let me ask you – what is the representation of evil in Judaism? Of course the answer is Amalek. Torah tells us that Amalek should be eliminated: Deutoronomy 25:19 : ” You shall blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; You shall not forget.” This idea is pretty simple; There is good, there is evil, we are good and evil is always somebody else. However the idea that the other is evil, that evil is by definition represented by something that doesn’t belong to us prevents us from working with it. Therefore I’d like to share with you a different way to look at Amalek, what if Amalek was an aspect of our existence. What if Amalek was something that exists in each of us and challenges our goodness…
I heard once that the story of Purim is the personification of attributes, and that one of the main issues is the interaction between these attributes. Esther can be recognized as courage and loyalty, Mordechai as care and goodness. So what about Haman? Imagine him as a dwarf, who doesn’t want to let anyone know that he is a dwarf. When everybody bows in front of him nobody notices his shortness. When Mordechai refuses to bow, Haman loses his mask, and all of a sudden he is exposed as a very short man with a very big ego. When ego mixes with anger Haman responds by asking for destruction. When ego floods our existence, it brings the most horrible kind of evil.
Another interesting place in which we can learn about this is in the Mishnah. In the book of Blessings it is written: “Baruch Ata Adonai eloheinu melech ha’olam, yotzer or uvore choshech, ose shalom uvore et Hara” – Blessed are you who forms light and creates darkness, who makes peace and creates evil. It might sound familiar to you from our morning prayers however the word evil was changed in our prayer books to “creates all things“. Some of our Rabbis felt uncomfortable about recognizing in liturgy that evil is an inherent part of creation. So you might be able to ignore it in your liturgy but it can’t be ignored when we think about our humanity as a whole.
When we are reading the Megillah and hear Haman’s name the custom is to make noise. When terrorists attack in Brussels we need to make noise. When people are killed in San Bernardino we need to make noise. When people are being stubbed in the streets of Israel we need to make noise. But these are all about somebody else’s evil. When one of our soldiers takes the law into his hands we also need to make noise. When we see among our community injustice we also need to make noise. But more important than anything else, when you recognize that the level of your ego is climbing too high inside yourself you have to make noise. We need to make noise and to remind ourselves that our goodness is not a given but a pursuit.
It is written: “Turn away from evil and do good; Seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalms 34:15). Purim reminds us that evil presents itself in many different shapes, and that it is our obligation to face it and to make noise.
Rabbi Nico Socolovsky