“Ben Zoma said, Who is wise? One who learns from every person.”
Does That Include Evil People?
Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the 6th Lubavitcher Rebbe, zt”l, sat in prison for his efforts in teaching and spreading Torah in communist Russia. While in prison, he met a particularly wicked person. This man — an interrogator — told the Rebbe that he enjoyed torturing people, to the extent that when doing so, he wouldn’t need sugar to sweeten his tea, as it was sweetened by the pleasure of what he was seeing.
After his release, the Rebbe explained that the Torah tells us (Kohelet 7:14) that G-d created the world in a perfect balance, with equal good and evil. Every evil action has its equal in good, and so, the message learned from the sadistic interrogator was to find the extreme good that parallels that evil. One must love someone to the degree that if one senses that someone else is in pain, no matter how much sugar is in one’s tea, it will remain bitter.
In the aftermath of the horrible high-school shooting in Parkland, Florida, there have been many important discussions regarding what needs to be done to prevent this from happening again. School safety, gun control, mental health awareness, paying closer attention to dangerous signals … these are all critical topics which must be addressed (and each topic shouldn’t preclude the others from being examined as well).
In addition, we must ask ourselves, what message can we learn from this evil act? What parallel good exists that we can act upon?
Let’s discuss three ideas:
One of the terms used to describe the evil that took place in the Parkland high school is “senseless,” as there is no logic to harming or taking the lives of complete strangers. Just as senselessness exists in evil, it exists in kindness as well. Sensible kindness is the stuff we do for family and friends, or that which brings us a clear benefit, but the kindness and good deeds we show to complete strangers — or, better yet, to someone we know who may have wronged us — is “senseless” goodness. The Talmud says that Yerushalayim was destroyed due to Sinat Chinam, baseless hatred; our sages teach that it will be rebuilt through Ahavat Chinam, baseless love.
Do an act of senseless kindness today.
One of the elements regarding the crime committed is that the criminal acted alone, unlike other forces of evil that operate in groups or with the support and backing of others. In goodness, too, we should never underestimate the power we have as individuals. It is sometimes uncomfortable to do the right thing alone, but when we take up the courage to do so, we can literally change the world, and we can certainly change the life of another person. Moshe, the greatest leader in our history, only survived due to the kindness of an individual who acted alone, as Batya saved him from certain death by retrieving “baby Moshe” from the Nile River (Shemot 2:5).
Don’t wait for others to do a mitzvah — act alone!
A Single Deed
For the many victims of the school shooting attack and their families, all it took was a single act of evil to change everything, and to turn their lives upside down. Judaism teaches that the same is true about the power of a single good deed. In the biblical story of Yosef, it was Yosef’s concern for fellow prisoners and his simple question of “Why do you look sad today?” (Bereishit 40:7) which changed the course of his life and the course of Jewish history. The same is true with our interactions with others in our life. Never underestimate the power of a single good deed, a genuine “How are you?” or even a friendly smile; the results can be life-changing.
A single action can make a big difference.