Overcoming Evil with Faith – A Passover Lesson from Kansas City
It’s all about the battle of good and evil. Arguably, all Jewish festivals touch upon this theme in one way or another. Whether they celebrate victory over enemies or the battle against sin and the quest for divine light and love, the battle against evil runs is fundamental to all Jewish celebration.
There is more than one way of confronting evil. The juxtaposition of Purim and Passover is a case in point. Passover is not a story about how we fought evil and won. It is a story of God’s actions. God acted and saved us from Egypt. Redemption and the overcoming of evil are God’s deeds.
Purim, by contrast, emphasizes human action. Esther’s actions led to a kingdom-wide battle between Jews and non-Jews and to the overcoming of evil.
And then there is the overcoming of evil through goodness and kindness. I cannot think of a festival that illustrates this, but I do recall a teaching of R. Nachman of Breslav who describes the appropriate response to the enemy. The enemy is like a thief who is digging under the foundations of our home. If one responds with hate, one is digging from the other end, thereby facilitating the enemy’s potential entry into our home. If, by contrast, we pour dirt on the other end, we act against the destructive power of the enemy. The dirt, says R. Nachman, is love.
This year the period between Purim and Pesach taught me a special lesson of how to cope with evil and what it means to respond with faith. Two years ago the Jewish Community Center in Kansas City was attacked by a Jew-hating white supremacist. He intended to kill Jews. He ended up killing three non-Jews.
Mindy Corporon lost her son Reat, who was auditioning for a local talent show, and her father, who drove him to the audition. Some higher power in her responded immediately, seeking a higher purpose. That very same night she appeared at a vigil and called for love to conquer hate. That call was then translated, a year later, into a city wide initiative called Seven-days. For seven days the community engages in various activities that seek to deliver a message of love and unity. Activities involve religious leaders and their communities, school children and the public at large, women’s groups and artists. A city-wide message is delivered suggesting a response to loss and evil that is a far cry from revenge, anger or sinking into bitterness and resentment.
The Seven Day initiative is moving. It is moving first and foremost because of the personal story that it embodies. It is moving because the hate crime was directed against an entire community and the very fabric of its existence. It is also moving because of the genuine quest of an entire community to move forward. But above all it is moving because it is a response of faith to personal loss and communal calamity. And it shows how faith can lead us from hate to love, spreading love within the community Faith, in this instance, does not lead to loving, nor forgiving, the perpetrator. It is expressed by sowing love as a response to hatred.
So, what lesson do I draw from Seven days, as I prepare to celebrate the seven days of Passover? It is, first and foremost a lesson of faith. Without the power of faith, Mindy could not respond as she did. Her faith affirmed the need to not give in to evil, not to hate. Faith is an openness to God at the moment. Passover is Israel’s first and formative moment of collective faith, and it is by virtue of faith that Israel were redeemed, as the rabbis state. Faith is an openness to God and to His message, His response, in the here and now. Mindy is a remarkable example of such a response and how it translates into the here and now of her community. Her faith is an invitation to consider what a faith response might be in our lives as we face evil, enemies and destruction. Our tradition contains multiple responses, even to the destruction of the Egyptians. Passover is an invitation to consider how a living faith responds to contemporary evil not only through our individual and communal instincts, but through the potential of a higher God-given vision.
This post, written by Alon Goshen Gottsetein, first appeared on The Times of Israel, April 19, 2016