My sermon from Friday, June 5th, 2020
By Stuart Federow
In Judaism, The Satan is not the devil. There is no evil entity outside of the human heart, that curses us, or that fights with Gd like another god, over human souls. Instead, The Satan is an angel who works for Gd, like a district attorney or prosecuting attorney. The Satan does not fight against Gd, but rather The Satan is an angel who works for the Heavenly Court to find out what the truth is, by operating sting operations on human beings with the permission of the Judge, who is Gd.
But where is the evil? It is not, therefore, in an entity that fights against Gd, over human souls. The evil is not in the entity that sets up the sting operations to give us the opportunity to choose right or wrong. The evil is in the human heart that makes the choice to do good or to do evil, and The Satan is just doing Gd’s work of giving people the opportunity to express what is already there, to make the choice between doing what is right, and doing what is wrong, and therefore earning the reward or the punishment that comes with the choice.
The only version of the movie Footloose that I have seen is the one with Kevin Bacon. In that movie, the minister, at a point late in the movie, is confronted with a bunch of his own congregants burning books. He tells them that the evil is not in the books, it is in their own hearts, and it is the evil in their own hearts that must be eliminated.
There are those today in the world, who want to blame something outside of the human heart, for the evils that human beings perpetrate. They want to say that racism is systemic in the United States, and it is therefore the United States that must be fundamentally changed. But these United States of America are just states bonded together by laws, and any bad that is in the Laws of the Land are only there because of the bad that was in the hearts of those who made those laws. Saying that it is the United States that is racist is just as wrong as saying that this is a Christian country. It may have been founded by Christians, but those same Christians created a country where the separation of Church and State is a prized value. There is no religious test for election to public office. These United States welcome all faiths, and all races and faiths are welcome to join us in the Grand Experiment that creates the American Dream, for which many of all races and faiths come TO this land, legally and illegally, to make real that dream. We are not a Christian country, and we are not an evil racist country, either.
Remember, too, that it is the good hearts of those who make the laws of the land, that see to it that the bad laws created by bad people are changed. It is the good people who changed the laws that advanced hate and prejudice, that were made by bad people. This is what has happened over the last 70 years or so. Good people have made Good laws and eliminated bad laws made by bad people.
This is just as true for the states, and the counties, and the cities, as it is true for the United States Congress.
What we need to change, what we must change, is the hearts of humanity, the heart of each individual. We must change the hearts of all the people in Congress, no matter who is walking in those halls in any given year, and we must change the hearts of those who reside in the White House no matter who occupies it in any given year, and we must change the hearts of those in the state legislatures, who hold county offices, and are on the city councils in any given year, and yes, in the hearts of every single individual police officer, and yes, every single person who has a heart, because it is his or her heart that must be changed to erase racism from the world.
It wasn’t the whole police force whose knees were on the neck of George Floyd. It was the knee of one individual who had been in trouble before, who was knowingly allowed by other individuals to remain in a position of power, and by other fellow officers who did not act when his knee was on George Floyd’s neck. It is not in institutions, hate is in the heart of the individual, and in the hearts of the individuals who make up the institutions.
This is why it is so hard to fight racism. It is not in some esoteric entity, like a country, or a police force, it is in each individual who makes up the esoteric entity, who makes up the congress or the police force, who makes up our societies. Hate of any kind is in every individual in our society, and that means in each of us, too, and how can we eradicate what is beneath the surface in every one of us who walks this earth?
Its easy to point a finger at institutions, but if we don’t change the human heart, the institutions won’t change, because they cannot change without changing the hearts of those who make up those institutions.
How do we fight that? How do we go about changing the hearts of every individual whose heart harbors hate?
I don’t know. I wish I did know. I do, however, have a suggestion, I will get to in a minute.
But I know that it is in each of us, and not in an institution, rather hate is in those who make up that institution. We cannot progress until we stop denying the existence of evil in the human heart. Humans are not inherently Good. But neither are they inherently Bad. Good is not the norm, an idea that makes being bad an aberration. Bad is a choice, no differently than Good is a choice. Until we go about solving the problem by changing the hearts of each individual human being, nothing will change.
When Gd gave us the laws at Mt. Sinai, Gd did not care about race. Race never comes up in the Torah, except in one place, and that place is coming up in a Torah portion quite soon. And the text is clear, Gd condemns racism and condemns racists. A person’s race is just not a concern of Judaism, the laws are given for everyone, and anyone and everyone of any race can become a Jew by conversion to the faith of the Jews, to Judaism.
Values, morality, ethics, goodness and evil, how to connect to Gd and how to connect with other human beings and how to connect with all of Gd’s creation, these are the concerns of Gd and Judaism. Not race.
Our faith does not say of those who don’t belong to our faith, ‘you are condemned.’ Our faith just says, ‘live and let live, you do your thing and leave us the heqq alone to do our thing.’ Our faith does not limit who gets in to heaven to only those who adhere to our beliefs, that idea is an inherent divider, and separator of humanity. It condemns those outside of one’s group, and the first step to racism begins with an us-them mentality.
It is Judaism that teaches us, and the world, that we are all made in the image of Gd, and it is the Hebrew prophet Malachi that asks us, “Have we not all one Father? Has not one Gd created us? Why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother, profaning the covenant of our ancestors?”
So, yes, I do believe that one way to eradicate racism and hate is to for we Jews to be a light to the nations and to seek out others to join us and our faith. But that is just me. And its open to debate. Being a Jew does not eliminate racism from the Jewish heart, unless the Jew embraces Judaism, and unless a Jew internalizes Judaism’s values, morals and ethics.
This leads me to believe there is a solution, a way to change the heart of everyone. The real answer is to study and learn how one obtains for one’s self, one’s values. Why do some Jews uphold Judaism’s distinctive values, while other Jews do not? What makes someone internalize and make one’s own, a certain set of values and morals and ethics, and what makes that person reject other values and morals and ethics? What is it that makes one choose racism and hate, over acceptance and love? We know how a person acquires a language, maybe we need to study how a person acquires values, morals, and ethics for themselves? That, I believe, is the key to eradicating hate and racism from the human heart! Learn how hate and racism and evil get into the human heart, and learn how love and acceptance and good get into the human heart and then work on the latter! And not just everyone else’s heart, but in my heart and your heart, as well. Its not just ‘them’ that needs a change of heart, it is each of ‘us,’ and it is me and it is you and it is everyone we know.
Something has to change, and what changes is here in the heart, and not out there in the world, and I know how it begins, it begins with The Man In The Mirror.
May Gd give us that strength, that is needed to Change.
And let us all say, Amein!