Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Rethinking Evil

I would like to share with you today a different perspective on the second principle of Traditional Jewish medicine (TJM). This principle, Sur Me'ra Va'ase Tov,(turn away from Evil and Do good) teaches us that in order for a patient to get well, before embarking upon new innovative therapies to renew and invigorate the tired and out of balance patient, the physician first needs to carefully evaluate, and eliminate from his patient's diet and lifestyle, foods and behaviors that can undermine his health and cause him harm. Yet before we are able to eliminate that which is evil, we should consider first exactly what evil means from a TJM perspective. Our sages tell us, that once Adam and Chava ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the clear distinction between good and evil became blurred and relativistic. We, as their descendents are given the task of repairing this damage, by working to clarify their distinction. But what exactly does evil really mean?

I would suggest that much can be learned of the real essence of what something is, by examining its root in various languages. I find it fascinating that when we analyze two different respective "roots" of the word evil: the Chinese character "xie" and the Hebrew word רוע, we gain a broader understanding as to what evil really is. Scholars that I have spoken to tell me that the character "xie" connotes that which is crooked, as in a tree growing crooked and bent over, implying imbalance and disharmony. The Hebrew word "רוע," (pronounced ro'ah) consists of the same letters as the word עור (ohr) meaning skin, and implying that evil is that which is superficial, fake, "skin-deep". (In contrast, English I generally find to be a more linear, adaptive language, mostly single faceted, complementing the Western (shall I say, American?) tendency toward reductionism and oversimplification. Though translation is important, I believe that it is more important to understand the use of language in its context and spirit rather than only its precise, limiting definition.)

The thinking, G-d fearing person needs to go beyond that which is simple and obvious. Our task should always be, to view our lives from a higher perspective, to vigilantly be aware of the constant threats of superficiality and imbalance. When we integrate the awareness that what we do does matter, we become more whole, and better vessels of holiness in order to bring the Mashiach that much closer.

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