2009-06-05 / Columnists

Point of View

CAN YOU MAKE A POSITIVE FROM A NEGATIVE?
"The Rabbi's Personal Column" Rabbi Allan Blaine Temple Beth-El, Rockaway Park

Maybe in math and photography but not in real life, in real life a negative is a negative!

The Talmud confronts this intriguing question in the third chapter of the, "Tractate, Sukka." Is a stolen Lulav valid for ritual use? Suppose one steals a Lulav and Etrog (the four species used on Tabernacles) enters a house of worship and then recites a benediction over the Lulav, is the benediction valid? Of course not! It is a mitzvah, or good deed, which comes by way of transgression!

In the real world one does not make a positive out of a negative. Evil methods do not justify good ends. When the Jewish Theological Seminary opened its state of the art library building it received a substantial endowment from an individual and a sign was affixed to the structure only to be removed and the endowment returned when it was revealed where and how the monies had been derived.

Means must be compatible with ends. Lofty goals cannot be achieved in wrong ways. America is the land of opportunity and safe haven. This is one of its greatest contributions to humankind. However, using immigration years ago to open the floodgates to Nazis and war criminals, or giving safe haven to drug dealers and today to fanatic terrorists weakens the country, terrorizes its citizenry and makes a mockery of the goal of safe haven for all.

Combating, "hate speech" on the campus is a good educational goal, but not by jeopardizing first amendment rights and free speech. Advancing civil rights by a jettison of civil liberties is also wrong as is the case with aggressive interrogation unless there is a danger to the country. Good goals do not come through bad methods. Negatives don't make for positives in history, society or life. Transforming the United States into a more segregated society, turning a college generation through multi-culturalism and political correctness against democratic ideals and values, or encouraging bilingualism in public schools, do not advance minority children but keep them out of the mainstream of American society. The early Jewish immigrants forced themselves and their children to learn English as quickly as possible to be in the mainstream of American life.

Combating the problem of teenage pregnancy and teaching tolerance for other life styles through a curriculum on sex for kindergarten and for early grades despite parental objections. Random distribution of condoms to high school kids may have some salutary benefits but is not the answer. From my point of view there is nothing wrong or out of step with promulgating what Western religion has taught for thousands of years, to wit: the value of family and good behavioral traits. It is counter-productive and bad educational technique to make these ideas appear to be Neanderthal or prehistoric.

Robert Browning, the poet, wrote, "let your reach exceed your grasp - else what's a heaven for!" There is nothing wrong in pursuing lofty ends, but by proper means. We must work to make a positive out of a positive. Goals and means should be aligned. A mitzvah (good deed) should come through a mitzvah and not through an Aveira (transgression).

Jeremiah the prophet in one of his magnificent orations accused his people of committing all kinds of iniquitous actions and then coming to the Temple and saying, "we are here and now we are saved!"

Let our goals as Americans be lofty, visionary, and "mitzvah-oriented" and may we be proud of the means by which we reach them. Otherwise ultimately everything will unravel. You can't make a positive out of a negative!

(This page comes through the generosity of the Arlene Topal Creative Arts Fund

of Temple Beth-El. Dedicated to educating children in the Judaic Tradition)

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