Is Man Flawed?

November 30, 2017

I am waiting to learn whom will be the next man in a powerful position who assaulted a woman, as the veil of secrecy that has existed for too long has too many holes to continue.  The first settlers in the United States created Thanksgiving not in the spirit of peace and friendship, but in celebration of the successful slaughter of Native Americans, which we sadly perfected.  The conquistadores wiped out the Aztecs, Incas and Mayans.  Americans owned African slaves until the Civil War began to end that practice.  Women were not given the right to vote until the final passage of the 19th Amendment on August 18, 1920.  The S. S. St. Louis left Hamburg, Germany with over 900 Jewish refugees that were turned away by the leaders of the United States in 1939.  Japanese-Americans were interred in concentration camps during World War II.  Jim Crow laws might have been excised from legal codes, but prejudice continues, as witnessed by the deadly march in Charlottesville.  The results of this experiment called the United States of America are not always worthy of praise.


Is there a flaw in man’s DNA that pushes us to fight and to hate?  In a very telling verse after Noah and family have disembarked onto dry land, we read:


“…and the Lord said to Himself: ‘Never again will I doom the earth because of man, since the devisings of man’s mind are evil from his youth…” 


This is a significant set of Hebrew words that appears for the first time in the Torah.  The word ‘yetzer’ means ‘devisings’ or sometimes translated as ‘inclination’, and ‘rah’, which means ‘evil’ – thus ‘yetzer rah’, the evil inclination.  The Torah indicates that our inclination is to do evil much more readily than good, and when coupled with the references above, perhaps the Torah is correct.  This no doubt disturbed Biblical commentators, who felt that man can control this evil inclination with a good inclination.  Cartoonists have modeled a little devil on the left shoulder and a little angel on the right.  Our lives and the choices that we make are constantly swaying between both inclinations.  With a strong moral center based upon the teachings of the Torah, good should be able to win.  At least that is our hope.  Alas, that is not always the case.  To be good, to make the right choice on a daily basis when we are sometimes swamped with choices, is not easy.  Temptations abound.  The challenge to opt consistently for the good inclination is daunting, which is what makes us human, and this can be a definition of life.

Each time a man is accused of assaulting a woman I let out a sigh, as the overwhelming evidence portrays more and more men as less than human.  We men have much work to do to reassure women that they will not be treated disrespectfully, that there can be much that is noble and good in men.  New conversations and discussions are called for to rethink the “well, that’s the way we always have done it” model, because that model does not work.  While I do not know what version of operating system we should call it, and knowing that we cannot start from scratch, nevertheless a new and improved version must take hold.  In retrospect, we thought the old model worked, but it really did not. 

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