07 Jan

Chapter 9: Man and Society

When the Evil Inclination Serves the Good

The Evil Inclination. Man has an inclination to do evil, and this makes life rather pessimistic. How should we deal with the fact that we have within us a desire for evil?

A desire for all sorts of evil, without going into detail for the moment. On the other hand, we also have within ourselves an intense inclination to do good. We call this the Good Inclination. How can we explain this duality? I am a single person, so how can I contain both an inclination for good and an inclination for evil?

A number of different approaches are found in the world. For example, the French speaking philosopher, Rousseau, held that man is essentially good. Man is all good, but the society and culture around him makes him do bad things. According to this approach, the source of the evil inclination is external to man and so the solution is to return to man’s original state.

The converse approach holds that man is essentially bad, and it is society that, through sublimation, provides him with good values. Such is Freud’s psycho-analytic method, according to which man is, fundamentally, an unruly brute, “homo homini lupus est,” but society coerces man into accepting a set of values. Yet another approach, which is behaviorist and existentialist, holds that man is essentially a blank page, and he constructs his own inner world. He constructs for himself both the inclination to good and to evil.

What does Judaism say? Judaism has a fourth approach; that people contain both an inclination to good and to evil and that both of them are natural and necessary for our health. If man were to have only an inclination for good, he would immediately become a pure, angelic soul, and depart this world. Like a mystical escape from reality. And if man were to have only an inclination for evil, he would busy himself exclusively with his physical and instinct-based existence, which is itself important, but not exclusively important.

It is precisely the cooperation between the two inclinations that brings us completeness and health. Between the inclination to good, that desires a soulful and spiritual life, and the inclination to evil that desires this world and its material possessions.

Someone with no evil inclination is at risk. Such a person needs to see a doctor to get two injections of evil inclination to stabilize himself. So why do we speak of this inclination so negatively? We repudiate the evil inclination when man decides to lead his life at its instruction. But when it is made to serve the inclination for good, then it actually brings great blessing.

This is an optimistic approach. A symbol of this is found at a central life-cycle event, a wedding. I imagine that you’ve seen a wedding. Under the wedding canopy we witness a special moment, and I think this is a universal phenomenon, that when the couple becomes married, there is a moment of intense, uncontrollable happiness that bursts out on all those present. Everyone senses this happiness. Why is this? This is because at this moment it is abundantly clear that both the inclination for good and for evil, desire the exact same thing. This is the proof that we are given once in a lifetime, the proof that we do not live in a world that is hell. This is a world that has the potential for harmony between the demands of the desire to do good and that for evil, and that true contentment can be achieved.

One plus One Equals Three

A topic of concern, yet very important, is the relationship between couples. Man differs from animals in that he does not live in natural relationships alone, dedicated simply to procreation, as animals do. Animals have no issues with ‘being single’ all their lives. Our social reality is such that people do not have relationships that are based solely on their identities as male and female, but much more than that.

When we look at the passages in the Torah which describe the creation of the first human couple, we find that the first man went through three phases in the development of his relationship with the first woman. The first phase, which is common to human and animals, is called ‘male and female.’ Some people have relationships that are based solely on their being male and female. Not very different from cats and dogs. But humans are capable of taking on a higher level of consciousness, what the Torah calls ‘Man and Woman.’

In the Torah, ‘man and woman’ are the names which the first man gave to himself and to his wife. He said, “She shall be called ‘Woman,’ (Ishah) because she was taken from man (Ish).” Meaning, man and woman are built on an intellectual awareness, or acknowledgement. I acknowledge that outside of me is another entity. I am man, and in addition to me there is woman. I am woman and in addition to me there is man.

There is a risk here. Man and Woman are generic names. When the first man calls his wife, ‘Woman,’ we understand that there is a problem in their relationship. Indeed, immediately following these passages the Torah tells us of a sin. A sin that was the result of a misunderstanding between the couple. Only after the sin, the first man corrects himself and suddenly new names appear, ‘Adam and Eve’. Only at this point is the term ‘Adam’ meant as a first name (the word adam literally means ‘man’), and now we see ‘Eve’ as a first name. The name symbolizes a unique persona. People must make an effort to enter a new stage where they recognize that their spouse is not just another entity, but another personality, another will, another perspective on the world, that is different from their own.

It is precisely this mutual enrichment, this ‘cross-fertilization,’ between the couple that has the potential to bring them success in life. We are not talking about an integration of two identities into one identity, as romanticism proposes, where ‘two become one,’ where both identities are assimilated and blurred into each other.

Instead, the Torah speaks of ‘two becoming three.’ Meaning, that the identity that results from the relationship of the couple is a third, and additional, element. The ultimate manifestation of this is a child, the future generations. This symbolizes love that is not concentrated exclusively in the present, but is oriented toward the infinite future of the coming generations.

Have Confidence in your Children

How should we raise our children? This is one of the vital questions in life. Let us look to the book of Genesis for inspiration, to learn from our forefathers Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Rachel and Leah, how to manage our family life.

One thing stands out vividly, that each one of the fathers saw the continuation of his life’s work precisely in the son who was most different from himself. Take, for example, Abraham. Abraham had two sons, Ishmael and Isaac. Ishmael was, in fact, similar to him. Just as Abraham’s central quality was kindness, so too Ishmael’s prominent quality was kindness. Isaac’s prominent quality, on the other hand, was judgement. And it was precisely the son who was different from his father that continues the father’s life’s project.

We find the same thing with Isaac. His son Esau, was similar to his quality of judgement while Jacob was critically different, being a man of mercy. And Isaac is continued by the dissimilar child. We can say that the unique challenge of parents is to recognize the legitimacy of continuity through a different identity.

In order to succeed in doing this you must have a very basic quality that many educators often lack, and that is having confidence in their students. The more confidence we have in the abilities of the student, boy or girl, son or daughter, to become independent, the more we guarantee their success. For if we project to them a message of “You are dependent on me,” “You won’t succeed if I’m not there next to you,” even with good intentions, we are injecting weakness into their hearts. This is because children feel an obligation to the value system that their parents project to them. And so, if you tell them they are weak, they feel an obligation to be weak. But if you tell them ‘I believe in you, I am confident in you,’ they will find the strength to be independent.

The Men of the Great Assembly have said, “Establish many students.” What did they mean by the phrase “establish?” It means we must bring our students to ‘stand on their own two feet,’ and when there is a lack of confidence, there will eventually be weakness.

So what are parents for? It is the parents’ role to provide a value system. Children are not born with a value system. Tthey do not know on their own what is right and what is wrong and what the implications of their good or bad behavior are. My parental responsibility is to inform, to provide the correct information. Beyond this, the responsibility for what someone does with the information he received from his parents is on his shoulders.

So, it is important that once in a while the child will hear a voice of authority, that he will hear the unpopular expression, “Because I said so.” This statement creates in people an understanding of authority. Whereas if the father or mother are only the children’s ‘friends,’ then they have denied the children of their parents, of their internal awareness of authority.

A Hebrew Form of Government

As we know, the Torah does not deal only with the life of the individual but we could say that, considered in its entirety, the Torah is primarily concerned with affairs of the state and its organization. The commandments appear in the Torah and the rabbinic literature as the political constitution of the Jewish people in their land. Even with regard to its universal message, the Mosaic tradition is coming to teach all humanity to be a holy nation.

It is written, “And many nations will join Hashem on that day, and they will be a nation to me.” This is talking about entire nations that want their society and political life to be holy.

The question arises, is there a particular political system preferred by the Torah? We could find room within the Jewish constitution for many legitimate forms of government, within limits. But we do find in Deuteronomy a description of four government institutions of the ideal Hebrew society that could be used as a model for all societies. This form of government is built on four branches whose Hebrew acronym makes the word MISHKAN (Mishkan is also the world for tabernacle). They are Monarch, Judge, Priest, and Prophet (Melech, Shofet, Kohen, and Navi).

Monarch, here, does not necessarily mean a dynastic monarchy but rather the executive branch. Even a democratically elected executive would be granted this status by the Halacha. Judge, here, means the Sanhedrin assembly of rabbinic sages.

Meaning, those who decide cases regarding the laws of the Torah. The Priest is in charge of religious worship. The Prophet is in charge of God’s message, of giving rebuke, and of the higher moral awareness.

Each of these are elements of society and each branch’s authority is limited by the others. It is tempting to see this as equivalent to Montesquieu’s separation of powers, the judicial, executive and legislative. However, the reason for separation of powers as practiced in western societies is to prevent corruption and tyranny, whereas in the Mosaic tradition the goal of separating governmental authority between different branches is out of recognition that only God is the true king, and not any type of governing body. And so we could not possibly centralize all authority in a human institution. Only by dispersing the authorities between the monarch, judge, priest, and prophet do we reveal the complete kingship of Hashem.

Healthy Economics Built on Healthy Character

What economic system does the Torah promote? Does it support socialism, communism or capitalism? What does the Torah have to say about it? It seems that the Torah gives no absolute instruction because it teaches not to rely on the formality of a system. The starting point for a just economic policy is first of all the perfection of man’s character. Let’s take, for example, Marxist theory that speaks of class struggle. The basic moral character trait fundamental to class struggle is jealousy, and jealousy is an undesirable trait. Of course, we must be careful not to exploit the innocence of the masses, but to do this we need not encourage jealousy. So the Torah prefers that man first of all perfect his character and this endeavor will make for healthy economics.

What does the Torah speak of here? If we want to compare to contemporary systems I would say it is a form of social democracy. The possibility is given to all to accumulate wealth and capital, and at the same time employs measures to make sure that the accumulation of wealth does not impoverish the rest of the population, or become an excuse for governmental tyranny and control of the population.

This is the reason for all of the commandments of tithes, donations and charity.

Charity, (or Tzedaka) in the Torah, is not voluntary. If someone does not give the appropriate amount according to his income he can be sued in court by the poor. The laws of Shmittah, the Sabbatical year and Yovel, the Jubilee year, prevent people from perpetually dominating the global economy. There is a balance. On the one hand, people are given the opportunity to live in wealth. Wealth is not a bad word in Judaism. It is a blessing from God. On the other hand, we are careful not to harm the weak and we encourage the weak to break out of poverty and attain wealth for themselves. This is the basis of Hebrew economics on which an entire literature should be written and most of this job is still ahead of us

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