Our understanding of God is challenged each time we have to confront those things in our lives that are painful or negative. For most of us, it is easy to see that Divinity is the source of the love, compassion, joy and fulfillment that hopefully is part of what we all experience. How do we see God when our vision is veiled by our tears and our inhumanity of one to another, defies comprehension?
Each time I teach a class in kaballa, it seems that the ultimate challenge we face is trying to understand how Divinity and “evil” can live side by side. Unlike other faith traditions, Judaism does not focus on a separate, external force that others label “evil” or “Satan.” We believe that the Wholly One is the just that, a singular source of all that we experience. So how then do we understand the cruel behavior that continues to plague humanity? Jewish mysticism teaches that we were given free will as a basic privilege and responsibility as spiritual beings on this human journey. Our time on this earth is the opportunity we have to learn to use that gift with understanding and wisdom. Some people, through choice, genetic predisposition or tragic circumstances in their own nurturing as children, make decisions to behave in ways that are ungodly, motivated by ego rather than godliness.
Ego, psychotherapists will explain, is the center within each of us that moderates our interchange with physical reality. A strong and healthy ego is essential to guide and protect us in our physical lives. A spiritual awareness that connects us to Divinity, that Source of all that was, is and shall be, is our channel to true morality and ethics as we find ways to live with others in celebration our individuality and diversity. It would seem then, that when the balance between the ego and the spiritual is disturbed, we find people behaving in amoral and ungodly ways and “evil” enters the world. Understanding free-will means we have to realize that as recipients of this gift, we cannot hold God responsible for the holocausts and tragedies of our world. We must hold ourselves accountable. When we choose to follow the dictates of an ego that is out of balance, the choices we make will be harmful to others and ourselves.
The more important issue then, is how do we deal with circumstances in which godliness is absent? We need to acknowledge that such circumstances do exist— but not because of some outside source. We can choose to carefully moderate our choices and see the long-term results of what we are doing. Do our actions ultimately harm ourselves, others or the environment? Do we act constructively or destructively? With compassion and tenderness we can interact with others who have been deeply, psychically wounded by the cruelty they have experienced at the hands of others. We should applaud the efforts they make to turn their painful experiences into ways in which they can help others.
Ultimately we need to realize that discernment rather than judgment is a kinder and gentler approach to living, and that our lives are enhanced by putting our energy into “attitudes of gratitude” for all the blessings we enjoy rather than squander energy by standing in judgment of those around us. From the place of gratitude within will come that sense of compassion and love that the world needs. The choice to do so is ours.