Judaism teaches that freedom of choice comes with a recommended course of
action: choose to turn from bad to good. While that sounds like a proper, even
obvious, approach to life, ironically, human tendency is to let what is wrong
overshadow what is right. It is human nature to notice what bothers us more
readily than what pleases us.
Consider certain words we use and what we infer when we hear or use them: We
associate “Attitude” as having a bad take on life or a situation, being negative
or spiteful. I.e. “Don’t give me your attitude!”
What about “Consequences”? They more readily associate with a price we
must pay for ill-advised or otherwise negative behavior. “Evaluation”
associates with criticism. A person who is “opinionated” is someone who is
judgmental. “Judgment” is presumed to associate with criticism or wrong-doing.
Even in Hebrew, when we use the word “Yetzer”, “Drive” or “Inclination”,
traditionally we associate that with “Yetzer Ra” the “Inclination for Bad”…even
though there is also “Yetzer Tov” the inclination for good.
One of my favorite prayerful moments is singing Mi HaIsh, one of the warm-up
songs associated with “Pesukey D’Zimra” selections of songs/Psalms to energize
you for the morning service (which these days is growing in numbers and energy
each Shabbat morning!). Its words sum up Judaism’s contribution to addressing
and solving the world’s problems:
“Who is the Person, Passionate with Life? The Person that Loves each facet
of every Day, to See in each moment Good.
(How do you get there?) Stop/Turn Away your Tongue/Language from Bad and your
Lips from Saying/Speaking Deceit/Lies. Turn from Bad and Do Good. Seek
Shalom/Wholeness/Parts Coming Together and Make Shalom your Pursuit”
Bad and Good begin with thoughts that come to life with words that then may
or may not lead to deeds. The Judaic approach is seemingly obvious, yet so
challenging to grasp. The system goes in partnership with the premise of 2
being the smallest unit of possibility and effectiveness and 10 indicating a
position of strength, the power of community. As community we can engage and
embrace these teachings and strategies that can enable us to turn from bad to
good, to turn our attention to what is good in our lives as a stronger potion
than what is not. See the good in each other and those around us as energizer
that stays with us as we move through the day.
Consider the words we associate with negatives in light of the mandate to
turn from negative to positive: The only way to go from bad to good is through
the power of “Attitude”. In Hebrew it associates with Kavannah,
“Intention/Concentration/Direction. A person of Attitude is someone who can do a
lot of good in bringing what is good, even the best, out of those they are with.
“Consequences” of turning our focus from what is wrong to what is right are
reflected in the Judaic teaching: Mitzvah generates more Mitzvah and wrong
generates more wrong. Positive consequences evoke so much more to celebrate in
people and circumstances, otherwise overlooked in the rush of a day.
It is through “Evaluation” that we see blessings and opportunities and course
corrections to make in moving onward and forward in the direction of Shalom.
Shabbat’s blessing is the opportunity/mandate to stop so that we have the
context to appreciate, evaluate and anticipate steps to take to bring this world
closer to the Age of Shalom.
As “Judgmental” as people can be, the Judaic System turns the power of
Judgment within; it is the responsibility for each person to “Mitpallel”, to
“Turn Within in Reflection and Introspection”. That is very different than the
English word commonly used: “Pray”. God models Judgment in forgiving us in
advance of the 24 hour Fast of Yom Kippur, trusting in us, that we will do the
introspective work and make the appropriate changes in our lives.
It starts with Attitude. Turn from the instinct to give what’s wrong more of
your attention. Remember that doing good generates good, even if only wonderful
vibes, at times. Try the test of being slow to judge and looking for the
positive aspects of the person and the moment.
A story from Jewish life in the 1700’s that suggests how far one can go tells
of a person who learned of the teaching that you are to Thank God for the Bad as
well as the Good. This person sought out the Maggid of Mezritch to answer his
question and responded that the only one who could answer it was Reb. Zusya whom
he found warming himself by the stove in the corner of the austere room in which
they were studying. Beholding a man clearly worn down by life in difficult
times, he hesitated to ask. How could he ask someone like this how you Thank
God for the Bad as well as the Good. When he did so, he was surprised by the
response: This severe looking man broke into a broad disarming smile; that was
followed by a chuckle that turned into a hearty laugh! Reb. Zusya responded:
how could anyone think I would know the answer to that question. Me, Zusya, to
whom nothing bad has ever happened?