THE JEWISH MYSTICAL tradition of Kabbalah teaches us that every word, even every thought has a ripple effect in the world.
We may not know how or when, but our words can have an impact in powerful ways.
A kindness extended to a stranger, maybe the first shown to them in a long time, could change their lives. They may then begin the work of repairing our world, making it a more holy place.
Sadly, the reverse also is true.
Hatred and lies have their own ripple effect and sometimes it’s easier to hate.
When people feel left out, marginalized or insignificant, they can be manipulated by fear, believing only what they want to hear.
Rage can be easily incited and spread. No amount of logic or reason can reach a person who is seething with anger over imagined insults. Facts no longer matter, and their feelings of impotence and the desire to lash out become most important. If they are in a group, they feel an even stronger sense of power, legitimacy and justification for their anger.
When lies, fear and hatred rule, people who have in the past always practiced the values of compassion and justice can now decide that “the other” is not deserving of those principles.
The ends begin to justify the means, and “winning” to end their aggrieved status becomes their primary goal.
It doesn’t matter that they are basing their actions on lies, and doing irreparable harm to others and to society.
Philosophers and religious leaders have long warned about the power of lies.
Avraham ibn Hadai, a Jewish 11th century Spanish philosopher, physician and political figure, explained how insidious lies can be, and warned people of faith and integrity to avoid them: “Prefer death to a lying word, for the ripple-effect of its plunder is worse. When a man dies, he dies alone, but many are slain with the lie and its curse.”
Hitler’s words are an ominous reminder of where a path of repeated deception can lead: “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.”
We are living in a “post truth” world and we do so at our peril.
Even when scientific evidence, fact-based education and seeking for the truth makes us uncomfortable, to ignore them and allow lies to become the norm puts our society in great danger.
Lying often catches up with us, and watching people defending or even denying their lies reminds us of the words of Mark Twain, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”
Sir Walter Scott warned, “Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”
When someone gets tripped up in their lies, they will scramble to “fix” things, often leading to even more lies.
All faith traditions warn us to avoid lying or bearing false witness.
The Buddhist Eightfold Path, and the 10 Commandments of Judaism, Christianity and Islam all stress the importance of honesty. The Talmud teaches that truth is the very foundation of the world, and when falsehoods are spread, we are nudging at that very foundation.
We must have the courage to stand up for truth.
We cannot remain silent when hatred and deceit are accepted as the lens through which we are told we must view the world.
We should do this not only in our everyday lives, but also in the crucial decisions of choosing our leaders.
We must be less concerned with “winners” and more with who has the compassion, empathy, honesty, and integrity to lead wisely.
It would be prudent to follow the lesson of the great Jewish philosopher Maimonides (1135-1204): “Let the truth and right by which you are apparently the loser be preferable to you to the falsehood and wrong by which you are apparently the gainer.“
Kein yehi ratzon … May it be God’s will. Shalom.
ADDENDUM: This column was submitted over a week ago, before the massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, the racially motivated killing of two African Americans and pipe bombs sent to prominent figures because of their political views.
I had no idea how relevant my words would be in light of these events which were spurred by hatred and lies.
Please choose to reject all hate, and choose our leaders carefully, for they will set the tone for the future of our country.
Join the community for a vigil remembering the victims of all violence and hatred, Saturday 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Port Angeles.
Issues of Faith is a rotating column by five religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. Suzanne DeBey is a lay leader of the Port Angeles Jewish community. Her email is debeyfam@ olympus.net.