I was fluctuating between sadness and inspiration when I finished reading Rohinton Mistry’s.”A Fine Balance.” I have yet to shed the horrible cruelties powerfully described. The caste system, misuse of power, the desperate search for work, forced castration, and the hopeless lives of the masses helped me understand what the Children of Israel experienced in Egypt. Each nightmarish scene contains a powerful expression of the drive to live and the sweetness of kindness. I hear echoes of people being rallied to support a new government, suffering under the leaders they supported, and the merit of the women who kept the family alive under the worst conditions.
A week later, I realized that it was the goodness that made the deeper impression. I experienced the power of good over evil. So inspired, I gave the book to one of my daughters, who is quite upset with me for suggesting she read such a horrible story. When we last spoke, my daughter was struggling with finishing the book with its historically accurate descriptions of suffering in 1975 India. “How could you ask me to read such a horrible story?”
My daughter sounds just like Moses: “My Master! Why have You done evil to this people (Exodus 5:22).” I’ll respond as God did to Moses:
“The Lord spoke to Moses and said to him, ‘I am God’ (6:2).” Lord, or, Elokim, is the Name we associate with Justice, often harshness. God, or, Hashem, speaks of God’s compassion. Elokim, Justice, says to Moses, “I am Hashem, compassionate – find the goodness hidden in the folds and creases of the suffering. Moses cannot become a complete leader until he can find the power of good and the drive for life that motivate the people to move forward.
In his fury, Moses failed to see how the foremen assumed the extra burden imposed on the slaves. He could have challenged God by calling on such compassion and demanding that their good earn them redemption. Moses continued to speak of Israel as victims, not the heroes they were. Moses would have to learn to treasure the extraordinary kindness that softened every scene of suffering. (See, “Respectful Compassion.”)
I want my daughter, all my children and students, to mine through the horrible and treasure the good. We see and read of horrible things happening in the world and our communities, and we hear Elokim, God’s Judgment speaking. We have to pay attention to God’s message to Moses, “I am Hashem, compassionate and kind – I want you to find the good that is hiding underneath the suffering.”
A long ago friend, Dennis Prager, once convened a gathering that focused on Altruism: “The Altruistic Personality – Rescuers of Jews in Nazi Europe.” I recall Dennis challenging the audience to remember the names of the heroes who stepped forward in moments of ugly tragedy – the name of the Secret Service agent who stepped in front of a bullet meant for President Reagan, the name of the man who jumped into the freezing Potomac to save victims of a plane crash. No one knew the names.
We focus on the bad, not the good. We focus on Elokim, not Hashem. We read “A Fine Balance,” and shiver in horror. We study the Exodus story and wait for the miracles to find Hashem, the Compassionate One, and miss the scenes of human kindness that are so much more powerful than the evil.
“I may be Elokim, but you must always search for Hashem, so that you will become a force of kindness and compassion that will overcome the bad.”
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