Sunday, March 26, 2017

Vayikra: The Tempter, Humans Behaving Badly, and the Need for Sacrifice

“And God called to Moses…. ‘A man who shall bring near of you an offering to God from the beast….’”

—Lev. 1:2 (Adapted from a Chasidic Teaching of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the First Lubavitcher Rebbe)

            Call me the Tempter. Most Jews know me as the Yetzer Ha-Ra, the Evil Inclination. Who am I? I am the Voice of Evil whispering in your ear; I am the soft urge which bids you to look where you know you should not. I push you to steal, to lie, to gossip, backbite, change a number in an accounting book. I inspire bored people to commit adultery. I am, perhaps, the single cause of more evil in the world since Time began; I am a perpetual troubler. I am the hair in your soup, the driver who steals your parking spot, the false friend who proposes to the Girl of Your Dreams, a second before you get up your nerve.
           
Let me also say what I am not: I am not Satan; there is no metaphysical Devil in the Jewish universe or theological worldview. In Judaism, Satan is not an independent spirit, operating independently of God, working for Evil as God works for Good. To say or believe so would be Dualism, such as the ancient Persians believed in their Zoroastrian religion—and don’t forget that the Jews lived and flourished in Persia for centuries, beginning in 722 BCE. No: Satan is the Prosecuting Attorney in the Heavenly Court, or, at best, the Cosmic Troublemaker in that Morality Play called the Book of Job, where he must beg God’s permission before tormenting the eponymous heroic victim.  
           
Within and among nations, I cause race hatred. I am Jealousy personified, Negative Stereotypes embodied. I shy away from taking people as individuals; why bother, when it’s so easy to generalize, to use differences to incite rancor? It’s always tempting for you Mortals to hide behind a Stereotype (“Why bother? She’s just a--“) rather than extend yourselves to meet a stranger. Build walls; yes, that is always the solution.
           
I span every time, place, country, and era. I rode with King Richard Lionheart when he crusaded against Saladin the Muslim King in 1191 in the name of the Christian God; I thrust the Jews out of Spain before the Inquisition's wrath, the Irish out of Ireland for lack of either food or English sympathy (in time to escape to America and see signs in shop-windows reading, "No Irish Need Apply"), the Armenians into the Turkish Killing-Grounds; I aimed the rifles when American boys massacred Filipino women and children in 1902 in the name of colonial imperialism (water-boarding was an American invention. I dwell deep in the furrows of your brain as you read this. I am a hatred and suspicion as old as Time.
           
Can you prevent my ravages, O Mortal, you who claim to be made in the Image of the God you adore so much? There is but one cure: to make an Offering—not of yourself; enough of your kind have died for my Cause and in my Name. No: there is but one cure—to make an Offering, a Sacrifice—of your Animal-Self, the part of you which demands, requires, insists upon More: more lives, more land, more power.

My Nemesis is the Yetser Ha-Tov, the Good Inclination. It is content to Live with Less, to Divide and Share; to look into the eyes of a stranger and see, therein, the Image of God in whose spirit we are all awfully, wonderfully made. One warning, though: do so quickly. This World is drawing closer to spiritual and racial destruction, day by day.

            Hold back your Evil, and embrace your Good. Kill off your Animal Self, your Greed and Selfishness, by sacrificing it as an Offering to your God, who forgives us our limitations. Work for your souls’ sakes, so that all the clay in you, all the faults in you, may yield to your Inner Light—let the Fire on High-Priest Aaron’s Altar be nothing but Light!

Nothing but Light!