What a bizarre commandment!
Time and again, the Torah orders us to fight evil by... burning it. In its saintly words: “You must burn the evil from within you,” (Deuteronomy chapters 17, 21, 22 and more). But do we really have to burn evil in order to overcome it? Can’t we just combat it? And if the Torah is implying that we should eradicate it, why not say so explicitly?
The answer reveals one of the great secrets of education. For there are two ways to tackle the evil “from within us.” One way is to engage in a face-to-face confrontation with it. When evil comes our way, we converse with it, we analyze it, we strive to understand its root and only then do we engage in an attempt to surgically remove it.
Another way to tackle evil is to simply burn it before it even has time to conquer the stage of our consciousness. How so? By igniting our soul with the flame of G-d, His Torah and His Mitzvot and allowing it to grow and expand until evil burns and fades away.
These two methods are diametrically opposed. The first gives room for evil to express its opinion. It may even legitimize its stance. Worse, it may even give evil an opportunity to allow its venom to permeate our mind. The second method dismisses evil completely. Not because we don’t believe in its existence, but because we believe in the power of the soul, so much more. Evil may have a way, but in the presence of our Divine soul, it stands no chance.
Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twersky once shared an extraordinary memory from his childhood. He recalled that when he was a child and his father would admonish him for doing something wrong, his father would never label him in degrading terms. He would never say to him that he is a “bad” boy, or a “silly” one. All his father would say is “es past nisht,” meaning “it is unbecoming of you.”
This instilled in his son, Abraham, an invaluable sense of worth. By telling him that his behavior was “unbecoming of him,” he was conveying to him that the evil ways that he may have been engaged in did not define him. Rather, his real essence, his innermost self, was special. In his father’s eyes, he stood in the highest ranks of humanity. He was a VIP. Deep within, he possesses a shining soul, the flame of G-d. And therefore that sort of conduct was “unbecoming.”
Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., the American author known for his “Breakfast-Table” series, once attended a meeting in which he was the shortest man present (I’m no stranger to that phenomenon too). “Dr. Holmes,” quipped a friend, “I should think you’d feel rather small among us big fellows.”
“I do,” retorted Holmes, “I feel like a dime among a lot of pennies.”
Friends, we too are “dimes among a lot of pennies.” We too possess a Divine soul, whose light is brighter and mightier than any menacing force. We too are given the G-d given strength and potential to override our own established norms and modes of behavior.
We might define ourselves by the size of our height, the waist of our body, the dimensions of our home or the limits of our natural tendencies. We may even say to ourselves, from time to time, “this is the way I was born, and this is the way I will always be.” But our confining nature can be altered; our narrow perspectives can be changed. And if we can just re-ignite our flame of G-d within, and engage relentlessly in deeds of goodness and kindness, all of life’s challenges will “burn” and melt away.
So, have you connected to G-d yet today? Have you performed a Mitzvah? Have you ignited your soul? JN
Rabbi Pinchas Allouche is the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Tefillah In Scottsdale.