Addicted to hatred

Calming island sunset in Japan where Rabbi Berger could reflect. Credit; Rabbi Berger
Calming island sunset in Japan where Rabbi Berger could reflect. Credit; Rabbi Berger

With only a week until Rosh Hashana, many of us will be reflecting on the past year and looking forward to what lies ahead.

In our family, we were fortunate to survive this year’s GCSE exams and to visit American relatives in August who introduced us to the popular Netflix series FAUDA. Created, written and produced in Israel and based on real-life experience, this award winning drama which debuted in 2015 has run through 2 seasons, with a 3rd series expected in 2019.

A gripping drama about an Israeli counter-intelligence unit operating in Gaza, it grabs its audience from the first instance. Nearly every scene is driven by blind rage, violence and seething hatred. The remainder is filled with immorality and lawlessness – a perfect formula to appeal to today’s mass audiences.

One can see why this kind of entertainment is addictive. Anger and rage are the new caffeine in our diets – not just on TV but in so many places; on social media, on university campuses and in what used to be civil society. In politics this trend is not just in Hungary and Poland, but in the USA and the UK.

Look around and you’ll see how easy it is to be drawn to this dark side and to observe the social trauma it can cause. But you’ll say, surely there are those who ‘deserve’ our hatred. Perhaps yes, but as Yoda, from Star Wars warned,

Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

Readers are probably familiar with the famous quotation attributed to an anonymous monk from the 11th century, repackaged in 1961 in simpler language and attributed to Aldous Huxley:

As a young man, I wanted to change the world. I found it was difficult to change, so I tried to change my nation. When I found it impossible to change the nation, I began to focus on my town. Failing even this task, and as a mature person, I tried to change my family, Now much older, I realise the only thing I can change is myself.

When we examine the emotional ebbs and peaks in our daily lives, we can see from where we get our energy. Our passions often are the source for our greatest enthusiasm, fulfilment and joy.

How sad then to see so much energy being wasted on stereotyping, prejudice, bigotry, anger and resentment. This can even be found inside our houses of worship, where intolerance and impatience can come to the fore, when acceptance of differences would be more appropriate.

All the while, those most upset insist that others are the source of their unhappiness and displeasure. If only ‘they’ would be like ‘us’, life would be much more predictable and satisfying.

Sadly, in this digital age we’ve almost entirely lost the ability to dialogue; to recognise different views and to acknowledge them with respect and understanding. Instead, we adopt uncompromising platforms, and when we meet those who disagree with our ‘narrative’, the result is shouting and aggression.

Many of us, though familiar with the first part of the monk’s parable quoted above, are unfamiliar with its conclusion.

‘Suddenly I realized that if long ago I had changed myself, I could have made an impact on my family. My family and I could have made an impact on our town. Their impact could have changed the nation and I could indeed have changed the world.’

It’s not too late.

Perhaps, this week before Rosh Hashana – and days before the UN-designated International Day of Peace – we can strive to let go of our hatreds and fears. To do so only requires a quiet mind, reflecting within to identify where we can better expend our emotional energy, and then consciously moderating our thoughts and tempering our behaviour.

When we hear the Shofar welcoming New Year 5779, let’s do so from a new place – an internal space of resilience and calm, appreciating that all of us are created in G-d’s image. Finding holiness first in ourselves, we should then be able to recognise it in those who are different from us.

May we merit a year filled with G-d’s blessings, and with the goodness we choose to bestow upon ourselves and upon each other!

Tizku LeShanim Rabot/ Shanah Tobah

About the Author
Rabbi Jeff Berger served the Rambam Sephardi Synagogue for 7 1/2 years and is now an active proponent of interfaith dialogue.
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