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Friday Night's Sermon: Absolute Power in Scandals

The incidents of men using their power and position to take advantage of women keeps coming. These have transcended political parties. So far, we have seen these incidents predominantly in the Entertainment and Political fields. Although there has been some discussion on social media about their occurrences in the business world, it is probably a good guess that it is coming.

Each Shabbat, we read in the Sabbath Psalm that the evil will be routed and even though evil SEEMS to flourish, their doom is sure to come because Yours in the ultimate triumph. Well, it seems that is exactly what’s happened. After years of abuse, the doom of the perpetrators has come, hasn’t it? And consider that the first person leading this “routing”, Harvey Weinstein, is Jewish. HaShem has spoken.

So far exclusively, the situations reported involve men as the predators. Men are typically more aggressive emotionally and stronger physically. Men also seem to be more at the mercy of their physical temptations. This is why men observe all the commandments and women, on a higher spiritual plane, are exempt from the time-based positive commandments, such as praying.

That seems to be the reason why men seem to have more difficulty controlling themselves. Yet there is also another issue at hand. There is an old saying: “Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely”. Left unchecked, people will do what they want and refrain from exercising social discretion. It is once they’re caught that the apologies flow unabated, perhaps for some it’s a wake-up call.

This is a big theme in Judaism. We are all humans; we are imperfect. Temptations that arise from this big physical thing we inhabit called a body. We want what we want when we want it. This is what gets us into trouble. The problems occur when our satisfying those urges imposes on other people’s peace of mind and well-being.

Most of us have learned to temper our passions with socially-acceptable outlets. We seek appropriate paths and respect others in the process. That’s either because of our upbringing, or for some, the knowledge that there will inevitably be consequences. But there are people, men mostly, who either feel that they are above the laws of society or just simply don’t care.

So is the answer to just ignore those feelings to feel good and be miserable? Of course not! We just want to find ways to feel good and have other people feel good along with us. Isn’t it great for us to feel pleasure and bringing others along with us?

The first challenge is dealing with temptations. We know that they are a part of life. There is the yetzer hara—the evil inclination and the the yetzer tov—the good inclination. Of course, we want to focus on the yetzer tov as much as we can because practice makes perfect. Every morning we ask HaShem to help us avoid and control the evil inclination and keep us away from all negative influences. Kabbalah teaches us that when we pursue righteousness, we are led along the path.

We also want to focus on controlling our temptations. This is one of the main reasons we fast during Yom Kippur—to master the desire to indulge in temptations, to conquer our bodies. After all, if we can afflict ourselves by abstaining from food and drink and pleasurable activities for 26 hours, avoiding bad situations the rest of the year is easy.

We live by a code of morality. As our Torah teaches, we do not follow our eyes or our hearts, but rather the commandments. It’s almost a no-brainer. And we look at our tzitzis to remind us of that. But even without tzitzis or reading the passages each day, we still, as humans, have the capacity to rise above our petty urges. Look at all the good in the world, how countries are now coming to the aid of areas in need of aid after the aftermaths of natural disasters. Maybe that’s why they occur, for HaShem to give us the opportunity to focus on our altruistic qualities.

Some of those reminders involve loving our neighbors as ourselves, being kind to the those less fortunate and more vulnerable than us, and being fair in our business dealings. The results of following this code of behavior is that we have a more trusting society where people feel comfortable working with each other; this facilitates a more productive society. Relationships are better, less stress. We are happier, and therefore healthier. Everybody wins.

And most important, we don’t have to feel guilty about any bad behavior or worry that we’ll be found out.

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