A senseless murder, riots, and looting: Three changes to implement today

“I can’t breathe,” George Floyd pleaded, as his cold-blooded murderer suffocated him to death just a few days ago.

Shortly thereafter, it felt as if our entire society could not breathe. The scene was too brutal to bear. The killing was too senseless to watch. The cruelty was too barbaric to comprehend.

Ever since that day, we are still gasping for air, as we attempt to revive and restore our dignity and unity. Riots have ensued. Violence and looting have flooded our streets. And demonstrations have erupted everywhere.

While there is never any place for violence and illegal actions, one cannot remain silent at the sight of this atrocity. Where does this callous hatred come from? Why this apathy? And most importantly, how can we heal and emerge from this crisis better, stronger, and more unified?

The following ideas are an attempt to answer these questions, and provide a roadmap for change, in three fundamental areas, which, if implemented, will hopefully restore order and bring healing to our broken world:

1. Changing Our Vision: 

Each time I attend a funeral, a thought comes to mind.

As I listen carefully to the eulogies, I ask myself: How come we never hear any negative eulogies? Where are the contemptible people of our world? Do they not die? Or do they suddenly change and become saints when they leave this world?

The answer is telling: No, people do not change when they die. Rather, we change when encountering death, and our perspective then changes too.

Sadly, we don’t always see, and appreciate, the good in people, during their lifetime.  In my role as a Rabbi, I am, at times, deeply astounded how friends and relatives severe ties because of dumb banalities. And instead of focusing on the inherent goodness in each other, all they see is flaws and negative attributes.

But when death suddenly strikes, a more wholesome picture emerges. We then begin to see, albeit a little too late, the favorable side of the person.

Yet, this phenomenon begs the question: do we have to wait for people to die to cherish their value? Can we not see the good in every individual, today?

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once wrote: “Treat a man as he appears to be, and you make him worse. But treat a man as if he were what he potentially could be, and you make him what he should be.”

Similarly, instead of treating people as they “appear to be,” let us treat them as beings who possess souls with inherent goodness and infinite potential, regardless of their race, creed, and color.

Practical tips for achieving this change of vision:

– Search for three positive traits in every person that you will encounter today. Write them down. And meditate on them.

– Train yourself to only speak positively about others. And, as the old adage goes, “if you have nothing good to say, don’t say it.”

2. Changing Our Discourse:

In 1991, during the infamous “crownheights riots” in Brooklyn, the then-mayor of New York, David Dinkins visited the Lubavitcher Rebbe, to ask for his blessing in achieving peace between the “two groups” in the city – the black community and the Jewish community.

“We are not two people with two sides,” the Rebbe responded, “but one people on one side.”

His words spoke an eternal truth: In essence, we are all one. Our physical appearances may vary. The G-d given purpose we were each charged with is different. But the “Divine Image” with which we were created, is one.

Therefore, our divisive discourse must change. Instead of using terms such as “us” and “them,” let us use the word, “we.” For example, say not “what can we do for them.” Say “what can we do for we.” This does not mean that we cannot argue and disagree. We can, and sometimes, should. But we dare not become disagreeable. We can battle ideas, but without ever battling people. Our minds can carry differences of opinions, but our hearts ought to remain united as one.

Practical tips for achieving this change of discourse:

– Erase the words “they have to…” from your vocabulary, and replace them with the words “we have to…”

– Repair a broken relationship by highlighting the elements of unity in it. 

– Accustom yourself to blessing people randomly. Blessings have a unique power to unite people.

3. Changing Our Actions

As if the COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t enough, we are not facing a societal turmoil that has left many of us asking: “What will become of our world?”

Yet, dare I suggest that we alter the question of ‘what will be?’ with the question of ‘what are we going to do?’

The difference is stark: Ask “what will be?” and you will have become a visionless person, roaming through life without a direction of purpose and meaning. Ask “what are we going to do?” and you will have become a participant of life, a good-doer, and a difference-maker, that can, and will, change the course of history.

Victor Hugo, the 19th Century French poet: “Our acts make or mar us – we are the children of our own deeds.” Indeed, we may experience all sorts of moods, but at the end of the day, a smile, a helping hand, a generous act can mold our lives, and our world, infinitely more than the emotions of our hearts.

And so, what good action will you do today?

Practical tips for achieving this change of action:

– Take upon yourself one good deed, that you’ve never done before, and perform it every day. 

– Smile all the time, especially in the company of others. 

Reach out, on a weekly basis, to at least five people, and share a kind word, a comforting message, an expression of care and love.

– Volunteer to help the vulnerable at least once a week.

– Fill your charity box every day. When full, give to the charitable cause of your choice and re-fill again.

About the Author
Rabbi Pinchas Allouche is the founding Rabbi of Congregation Beth Tefillah in Scottsdale, Arizona, where he resides with his wife, Esther, and nine children. He is a respected rabbinic figure, a renowned lecturer, and a prominent author of many essays on the Jewish faith, mysticism, and social-criticism. Besides his academic pedigree, Rabbi Allouche is richly-cultural, having lived in France, where he was born, South Africa and Israel. He is also fluent in English, Hebrew, French and Italian. Rabbi Allouche is a member of AIPAC's National Council, and a member of the Vaad Harabanim, the Orthodox Rabbinic Council of Arizona. Rabbi Allouche's wise, profound, and sensitive perspective on the world and its people, on life and living, is highly regarded and sought-after by communities and individuals of all backgrounds. Rabbi Allouche is also tremendously involved in the Jewish community of Greater Phoenix, and he teaches middle-school Judaics at the local Jewish Day School. Rabbi Allouche is also a blogger for many online publications including the Huffington Post, and The Times of Israel. Rabbi Allouche was listed in the Jewish Daily Forward as one of America's 36 Most Inspiring Rabbis, who are "shaping 21st Century Judaism." Rabbi Allouche can be reached at: Rabbi@BethTefillahAZ.org
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