The final months of 5771 were shocking for Am Yisrael. In America, Jews were shocked to the core that a seemingly ‘religious’ Jew could abduct and brutally murder a small boy.
Then a little while later in Israel, Jews were shocked to the core again that a seemingly ‘religious’ rabbi and student of Rabbi Elazar Abuchatzeira could stab his spiritual mentor to death in cold blood.
The day after the murder of the Baba Elazar, z’l, I was talking to a few different people, but the same sentiment kept coming through: What’s going on with us? What’s going on with Am Yisrael, that seemingly ‘religious’ Jews could commit such evil acts?
Let’s be honest: I have no idea what’s going on with you. It’s hard enough to know what’s going on with me, and harder still to understand what’s going on with my husband and kids.
If I wasn’t doing an hour a day of hitbodedut, I would have vague, nebulous ideas of what was really going on with me, but I never would have understood just how many bad character traits I had to work on; or just how much of who I was and how I reacted to things was rooted in my evil inclination.
If I wasn’t doing hitbodedut for an hour a day, and asking G-d to help me really get a clear picture of who I am – warts and all – and what I need to improve, I’d have no idea of what I was really capable of, given the right, or wrong, circumstances.
We like to reassure ourselves that some people are just ‘born evil’, and there’s nothing much they – or we – can do about it. We like to reassure ourselves that killers, particularly Jewish killers, have to be psychologically deranged to have done what they did.
But when we do that, we are misunderstanding the nature of evil, and how evil really works in the world.
The evil inclination doesn’t come to a person, and tell them to go and murder a small boy in cold blood, G-d forbid. It starts small. It tells a person that all that stuff about men having to guard their eyes is old-fashioned nonsense. Then, it tells a person that there is ‘nothing wrong’ with watching actors in movies; then, it tells a person that there’s ‘nothing wrong’ with going to chat rooms on the internet – it’s all just make believe anyway.
Then, it pulls a person into watching blue movies, and an obsession with physical desire and self-gratification that it characterizes as being completely ‘normal’. Slowly, slowly, it chips away at a person’s desire to fight their baser animal instincts, and to act in a good, holy manner – until all that’s left is an animal in human shape.
And intelligent, driven, cunning ‘human animals’ are the most dangerous and evil force in the universe.
Human animals can become consumed by a negative character trait, be it anger, jealousy, pride, hatred, or lust – and literally destroy the whole world as a result.
The last few weeks’, I’ve heard so many horrible stories.
This person over here left their spouse and kids in order to pursue some selfish, ‘fantasy world’ idea of what is really going to make them happy. That person over there disowned their young teenage drug-using child, because they have a reputation to keep up, and what’s going on with their kid could seriously ruin it.
This person got jealous of the neighbour’s (completely legal) extension, and started legal proceedings to try and get it knocked down.
The list goes on and on.
And all of these people are ‘religious’. All of these people truly believe they are ‘good’ people, who just got stuck with a tough break.
It’s not the extreme, obvious evil that’s been hitting the headlines in America or Israel, but make no mistake about it, it’s the same evil.
You want to know ‘what’s going on with us?’ Start doing an hour of hitbodedut a day, and you’ll find out very quickly. You’ll find out very quickly that you still have a big problem with anger; or a big problem with accepting authority; or a big problem with controlling your physical lusts, or a big problem with jealousy.
You’ll find out that ‘religious’ as you may be, you still have a ton of work to do – and that knowledge will humble you, and inspire you to really start trying to put G-d more in the picture. Because without G-d, you don’t have a chance of beating your evil inclination.
The big evils that we’ve all been hearing about recently don’t come out of nowhere. They grow from the small evils that all of us are capable of doing every single day.
So I don’t know what’s going on with us, or what’s going on with you. But I know that for myself, I need to go and take another long, hard look at how I’m interacting with other people, and I need to ask Hashem to help me catch hold of and deal with my own small evils.
I need to check how respectful I’m being towards our Rabbis; how careful I’m being with the whole issue of ‘modesty’ and how much holiness there is in my own home.
These things appear ‘small’, but spiritually, they are massive.
Today, evil dresses up as cheder teachers, rabbis and ‘religious’ Jews.
I compare myself ‘before’ I started doing hitbodedut to ‘after’ I started doing hitbodedut, and I realize that evil also used to dress up as me – angry me, frustrated me, depressed me, vengeful me.
Who wants to be evil? No-one – not even the people we’ve all been reading about.
If those people were doing an hour a day of hitbodedut, they would have realised that evil was dressing up as them. They would have asked G-d to help them – and the world would be a very different place.