Israeli Values Religious Voices

Letter 66 - Rabbi Noga Brenner Samia

To the State of Israel and all its inhabitants,

Verse 15 in Psalm 34, gives us the recipe for a repaired society, using only six words: “Turn from evil and do good”. There is a double but yet simple demand in this verse: to turn from all evil and at the same time - to do good. Two affirmative commandments (or positive mitzvot)  that require active action - to identify and to eliminate civil wrongs, wickedness and injustice, and also do good deeds that benefit others. Don't settle for avoiding the bad, but always aspire to do good. And the other way around, don’t settle for only doing good deeds, if it entails ignoring the evil around us. Many commentators have wrestled with the question of: which is more important - “turning from evil” or “doing good”? Some say that “turn from evil” came first, and only after it “do good”, because it is impossible to reach goodness unless you uproot the evil, after all, it is tantamount to being a pious hypocrite. Others claim that there is no possibility to wait until all evil will disappear before you start distributing goodness in the world, because by doing good, the elimination of evil will already come on its own. According to the words of Rabbi Menachem Mendl of Vigniz: “If a person waits for the complete elimination of evil, he may never achieve good as the campaign to eradicate evil is heavy. Therefore, man has no choice but to grasp the good and with its help try to overcome and reject evil”

Two educational approaches emerge from this verse in Psalm 34, which in value-based education it is customary to combine: “Turn from evil” which is the stick method - motivation based on fear of punishment or negative results, and “do good” which is the carrot method - motivation based on striving for remuneration. Since it’s the combination of two affirmative commandments (or positive mitzvot) , the system of  the“Maharal” is relevant for both methods: “There is no reward except for keeping the affirmative commandments (or positive mitzvot), and not about keeping negative commandments (or prohibitive mitzvot), for only by keeping the affirmative commandments does he acquire a virtue, and not by keeping negative commandments”.

This time period between Passover and Independence day, is a time which “begins with condemnation and ends with praise”. The narrative of our people goes from slavery to freedom, from bondage to redemption, from exile to the land of Israel, from the physical and emotional place where we uproot the evil to a place where we can also do good. This year, when this time period finds an Israeli society polarized and divided, I think it is imperative not only to aspire to “turn from evil and do good” but also to strive for the second half of the verse in psalms: “seek peace and pursue it”.


Rabbi Noga Brenner Samia

Rabbi Noga Brenner Samia, mother of three, lives in Tel Mond. Noga was ordained as a Rabbi by a joint program at the Shalom Hartman Institute and Hamidrasha in Oranim. She is the CEO of Hillel Israel, an organization that strives to promote Jewish pluralism and the feeling of Jewish peoplehood among students in Israeli universities and colleges.

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