Simcha Feuerman
Psychology, Torah and the Daf Yomi

The Woke Bystander Effect Psychology and the Daf Bava Metzia 71

 Bava Metzia 71

Our Gemara on amud aleph quotes a verse from Chabakuk (1:13):

טְה֤וֹר עֵינַ֙יִם֙ מֵרְא֣וֹת רָ֔ע וְהַבִּ֥יט אֶל־עָמָ֖ל לֹ֣א תוּכָ֑ל לָ֤מָּה תַבִּיט֙ בּֽוֹגְדִ֔ים תַּחֲרִ֕ישׁ בְּבַלַּ֥ע רָשָׁ֖ע צַדִּ֥יק מִמֶּֽנּוּ 

You whose eyes are too pure to look upon evil, Who cannot countenance wrongdoing,

Why do you countenance treachery, and stand by idle while the one in the wrong devours the one in the right?

The prophet is identifying two problematic patterns in human behavior, and suggests that they are related: People tend to act with false righteousness and self-serving piety, too pure to even look at evil, and then are silent and complicit in the face of real evil. Numerous studies show that bullying and despotism occur less because of the occasional sociopath, and more due to the large majority who are too afraid to speak up.

Notably, in observing Shaul’s inconsistent mercy on Amalek but rageful genocide of the City of Nob, Midrash Tehilim (7:20) warns:

Whoever has mercy on the cruel will ultimately be cruel to the merciful.

Ibn Ezra (Shemos 22:20) goes as far as to say, that being silent while an orphan or widow is being mistreated, begets similar wrath and curses as if you were the perpetrator:

After saying lo se’annun (ye shall not afflict) (v. 21) which is in the plural, Scripture says im se’anneh (if thou afflict) (v. 22) because whoever sees a person afflicting the orphan and the widow and does not aid them, is also considered a person who is afflicting the pain.

Blaise Pascal, famously wrote about the “God-Sized Hole” that, if not filled with religion, will be filled with emptiness, and Chazal would add, evil:

“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”

– Blaise Pascal, Pensées VII(425)

To the misguided humans who are concerned about the Gazans, spend fortunes of money and time worrying about some obscure Amazonian forest creature that might become extinct, and dutifully compost, (which is Godly nonetheless, when in proportion), please pay heed. The approximate genocide of one million abortions in America per year, the murder, rape and sexual torture committed by Hamas on Israelis, or the persecution committed against women in many Islamic countries seem to escape your protestations and outrage. Please, instead of being Woke, wake up, or those monsters will be blowing up buses and cafes right at your doorstep!  And then, that will be really rough, because you won’t be able to get your sustainably sourced latte and kale sandwich at Starbucks.

About the Author
Rabbi, Psychotherapist with 30 years experience specializing in high conflict couples and families.
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