Monday, April 9, 2012

Pesach, ghetto slavery and balance

Having been raised in LA, in a color blind home, I was always taught to view people based upon their actions, behavior or spirit as opposed to the color or their skin or their features. And yet, it is important to consider what factors do contribute to the resentment and contempt that so many white folks have towards blacks. What I speak of, though, in my humble opinion has little to do with racism or discrimination, but much more so to a social phenomenon, one that my educated black friends and associates tell me causes them to cringe as well. This is the phenomenon of the "ghetto" stereotype, which to my thinking is deeply inbred and whose roots go back 150 years. In Erich Fromm's book, "Escape from Freedom" he speaks about two types of freedom, freedom from and freedom to. Freedom from is the freedom without considering what comes next, and without structure and a framework, a slave remains a slave, even though he is no longer in physical bondage. This, I believe, is the root of our tragic Afro-American experience, which has resulted in a demographic group which has significantly higher crime, much low rates of 2 parent families, a generally lower level of education, a much higher rate of cardio-vascular disease, a much shorter life span, and so much anger and resentment toward mainstream society. It is a culture where "bad" is good, and where it is cool to not smile (with the notable exception of Magic Johnson!).

Yet, I strongly believe that had an internal "Marshall Plan" of sorts been instituted after the Civil War to promote and encourage integration into mainstream society, teaching skills, and making available educational opportunity, that we would be a very different country today, a country which with each successive generation would be farther away from this slave mentality. Yet sadly, our ghettos not only perpetuate it, they glorify it, ironically serving as role models for white young people to imitate. This is the essential flaw that Chesed (kindness) without Tiferes (the beauty that comes from balance) presents, and is also, the avoda, the character trait which we are specifically enjoined to work on today, this 3rd day of the omer, in our journey toward the receiving of the Torah, a little less than 7 weeks from now. And it is that Torah which enabled our forefathers to receive as their freedom some 3300 years ago, a freedom which not only enabled them to escape from the bondage of Egypt, but much more importantly gave them the structure and purpose to become a covenantal community, free to serve G-d and connect with him 24/7, and free to fulfill all the many commandments that could only be observed in the holy land of Israel.

So too, as we are l watch events in the middle east continuing to unfold, I fear that this same problem is repeating itself, just as it did when colonial Africa was freed a generation ago: That without strong leadership, education and moral guidance the exhilaration of liberation will be short lived and will be replaced by a new tyranny.

It is important to understand, also, that freedom and balance have a connection to our health and well being, as well. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov tells us that the root of all illness is internal conflict and lack of balance, and just as we find in Chinese medicine, all phenomena are relative, both internally and externally. For if any organ or system dominates another, or if any is weaker than another, illness will result. Our goal with every activity that we engage in, should be to have a consciousness and awareness of what we are doing, making sure to always promote health and balance by our actions. This was the lesson that Hillel Hazakein, made sure to teach his students. Once, when he was about the leave the Beis Hamedrash (study hall), his students asked Hillel where he was going. He answered that he was going to do a mitzva, "and what mitzva would that be?", they asked. "I'm going to the bathhouse" He answered. "And that's a mitzva?" " Yes, just as they wash and carefully maintain the statues of he king to keep them clean, how much more so should I who was created in the image of G-d, show my respect for that image by keeping it clean." Another time, again, Hillel's students asked him where he was going. This time he answered that he was going to do an act of kindness for a guest in his home. "But do you have a guest every day? rebbe?", they asked. "But is not my poor soul a guest in this body? Today it is here, but tomorrow it will be gone!"

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