It’s 11a.m. and Aliza Davidovit is reporting live, although I feel half dead after a week of sleepless and short nights. I don’t have much time. Shabbat starts early; I have so many things to do and I’m just starting my article now. I’m questioning what the result will be as I’m not used to writing when I feel so pressured. But I figure if after centuries of slavery the Jews were liberated in one night and left Egypt in such haste that there was not even time for their bread to rise–and still their Exodus was successful enough to name a book after it–then maybe I’ll make out just fine too. The same happened to Joseph. After over a decade in Pharaoh’s prison, he was hastened out and in an instant went from being a prisoner to being the second in command of Egypt. Does haste make waste? I hope not. God is better at rushing than I am. And though I don‘t expect to part any seas with this article, perhaps I can open a few hearts and minds and perhaps God will provide the yeast so that my words don’t arrive brittle and flat like a matzah.
Growing up, whenever I would eat an extra cookie or two, or three or sometimes half a pack, I would ask myself as I then agonized for two hours on the treadmill, “What obsessed me to do that?” I’d jokingly conclude, “the devil made me do it.” But if you were raised in a traditional Jewish home, as I was, and your Judaism consisted of having a bar mitzvah, going to grandma for Passover and to shul on the High Holidays and not much more, then you probably never learned that yes, we actually do believe in Satan in Judaism and in Hell. And even more pleasant to know is that they are both out to get you. So don’t feel lonely ever, be certain, your evil inclination is with you always. “At the entrance sin is lying, and to you is its longing, but you can rule over it.” (Genesis 4:7) God tells these words to Cain when he is dismayed that the Lord accepts the offerings from his brother, Abel, but not his own. All Cain had to do was try hard, kill off his evil way of thinking and jealousy. But he chose to kill his brother instead. It seemed much easier than working on himself. It always does.
How often in our own lives do we find it ever easier to kill another person with our gossip, slander, character assassination, etc., to make ourselves feel better, to re-establish superiority in a realm in which we feel threatened instead of realizing that everything we are feeling is a problem we ourselves have to work on, and not them, the subjects of our disdain? Many may recall the famous phrase from the waffle commercial of the late ‘60s and onward, “Leggo my Eggo.” But more appropriate to deal with our own puffed up sense of importance would be to repeat the mantra “Leggo my EGO.” Our egos have an insatiable appetite and when we partner up with Satan, we find ourselves excessively catering to our self-serving needs, of course to our own detriment in so many ways. Now you’re asking, “Well isn’t God more powerful than Satan? I believe in God and that’s it.” You’re right, God is the most powerful. But that’s not the right question. The right question is, “Is Satan more powerful than YOU?” No, God didn’t set you up for failure. He positioned you for great success. As any person who goes to a gym knows, through resistance strength and growth will come. I realize now with wisdom how it truly was Satan who made those cookies so irresistible, and I’ve spent so much of my life in a tug of war on many fronts–doing and then undoing–which leaves a person going nowhere.
Well maybe if God would have posted a picture of what Satan looks like in the post office along with the other “Most Unwanteds,” we could dodge him at every turn. Unfortunately, Satan is a chameleon, the ultimate shape-shifter, and he knows how to personalize his temptations for each customer. The question is, “Are you buying?” The price of sin at first seems cheap, but oh how we pay dearly, either with our money, our health, our relationships, etc. Things we were once so certain of soon dissolve under our feet. Not only does Satan wear many disguises, but what tempts you is not the same thing that tempts me. If you are someone who is prone to anger and rage then the master tempter will flash red before you; for, the sages teach that losing one’s temper is tantamount to idol worship. You scream, kick and curse; you’re doing the devil’s favorite dance. If you are someone who is prone to procrastination you will find that whenever you want to do something that’s good and healthy for you or others, unprecedented distractions will keep your wheels spinning. It is certainly one of the reasons this article is being rushed in the final hours before Shabbat.
These are just some simple examples, but the truth is, that everything in our life is a test and there really is no thing that is neutral. For instance, a person can hold a Bible in his hands and then go around smacking old ladies on the head with it, hardly putting it to God’s intended use. One can use one’s cellphone to look up pornography on the Internet or to look up Torah classes and charitable causes. The examples are endless, but they all lead to one concept, idol worship. Every second and action in our lives is feeding one of two things: God or the evil inclination. And as they say, “The one that wins is the one you feed the most.” I’m not suggesting that a person should make themselves crazy (at first), nor grow a halo over night, but just a little bit more scrutiny and self-interrogation as to whether the things we do daily in our lives are helping or hurting our souls and the world we live in, will cause us to change, hopefully for the better.
Just like the evil inclination, idols are also not standardized prototypes and easily recognizable, they are not merely big statues with heads of dogs or eagles, etc. Idols are the everyday things in our lives that we worship more than doing God’s will. If spending all your dollars at the mall is unquestionably more important to you than giving charity, then you are an idol worshiper and a Pharaoh; for, it means you care nothing about the suffering of your fellow human beings when the Torah clearly tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves. It means you love your Jimmy Choo shoes and Gucci belt buckle more than God’s will. It makes you a Pharaoh because although he knew that death was to sweep over his country with the plague which would smite Egypt’s first born, we read that Pharaoh awoke at midnight when the plague started, meaning he was able to sleep just fine before it started. How little he cared for his people. After Joseph’s brothers threw him in the pit, they sat down to eat—something for which they too were criticized. Have you hardened your heart to the world around you like Pharaoh and the stonehearted idols he worshiped. For in a society where we ourselves become the idols we worship the most, we are all doomed.
Idols are all around us and the list of Satan’s tools and fools are endless, but a practical suggestion is just to think about the everyday things we do and use in our lives and simply question, “What do they bring out in you and in others?” Are they getting you to do the devil’s dirty deeds or helping you to uplift yourself and the people in your life? Will God be happy when he reads your text messages or looks at your browsing history? How would you answer God if He asked you the same question by which we evaluate everyone else, “What have you done for Me lately?”
Thursday I spent a lot of time in a Judaic bookstore. I wished I could insert all the knowledge surrounding me like a microchip into my brain. I don’t know about you, but when I’m in a bookstore I’m always searching for answers, hoping I’ll fall upon the right book to bring me to the next level of awareness and understanding. I was satisfied with my find, and just as I was about to pay for the books at the cash register, I reached for the store’s business card and found standing right beside them some cards that were left by a very brazen solicitor, cards for tarot reading and astrology reading. Of course such is forbidden in the Torah. And I couldn’t help but think how even here in a book haven of God’s word, that Satan found its way in. Perhaps some other seekers of truth and answers would have picked up those card and searched out the answers from the darkest source, even though they were surrounded by the “letters of light.”1 I showed the cards to the owner who immediately threw them where they belong.
I really hate rushing when I write, but I couldn’t go into Shabbat without reminding you that life is a test, one that God assures us we can pass. Yes, God is the master planner, but the devil is in the details, so don’t get entangled in his knot. “Take care lest your heart be lured away, and you turn astray and worship alien gods and bow down to them. For then the Lord’s wrath will flare up against you….” Don’t play with fire. Satan has been around much longer than you. He has experience and plays to win and make you sin. Run for your life. Sometimes it’s good to rush.
1. “Letters of Light” is also the title of a book by Rabbi Aaron L. Raskin
* Title is King David’s own words in Psalm 51:5