Thoughts on parashat Lech Lecha. 

Lech Lecha – God speaks to Abram, commanding him, “Go from your land, from your birthplace and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you.” Then God promises him that he will be made into a great nation. Abram and his wife, Sarai, accompanied by his nephew Lot, journey to the land of Canaan. But a famine forces him to depart for Egypt, where his beautiful Sarai is taken to Pharaoh’s palace; Abram escapes death because they present themselves as brother and sister. A plague prevents the Egyptian king from touching her, and convinces him to return her to Abram and to compensate the brother-revealed-as-husband with gold, silver and cattle.

Back in the land of Canaan, Lot separates from Abram and settles in the evil city of Sodom, where he falls captive when the mighty armies of Chedorlaomer and his three allies conquer the five cities of the Sodom Valley. Abram sets out with a small band to rescue his nephew, defeating four kings. Towards the end of the story from our parasha Abram is rewarded witnessing the fulfillment of the Divine promise given to him at the very beginning of his journey, followed by even a greater reward – God establishes a covenant with him, which involves receiving a new identity, expressed in changing his name into Abraham. 

Abraham seems to remain absolutely calm, rational and faithful going through all these difficult experiences. It is not something given when it comes to biblical figures. Biblical stories depict real personalities with a variety of flaws – they depict people who act impulsively, out of anger, who lose their temper, like Esau, like king Shaul or even Moses. Abraham acts calmly and faithfully, and definitely not like a person who is ‘triggered’, and I believe that’s the attitude that profoundly helped Abraham to win. 

Why is being triggered bad? Because it typically leads us to words or behavior we later regret. But there is a deeper, more general, philosophical reason why being triggered is bad, namely, the more you are likely to be triggered the more limited is your individual freedom, understood as “freedom from” – freedom from external circumstances. Triggers and responses to them are connected in a deterministic way, forming patterns of our behavior, often resulting in an impulsive behavior. If you easily get triggered it means you have no control over your responses. The more things trigger you, more areas of your behavior are taken over by those patterns, by deterministic chains of cause and effect. This significantly affects your individual ability to act freely and to make conscious, reasonable decisions and choices. It often affects others negatively if your reactions contain negative emotions, and usually they do – this, in fact, belongs to the definition of what it means to be triggered.     

We live in times of great societal tensions and it is particularly important to be able to act calmly, reasonably and thoughtfully. Getting triggered is an antithesis of all of that.  We live in times in which there are people, across the globe, who are acting like sociopaths and tear down posters of our kidnapped people – Israelis and people of other nationalities, our kidnapped children and babies.. There are seemingly ‘normal people’ marching in support of genocidal maniacs from Hamas or the Iranian regime! Yes, some of them may believe that they are supporting innocent Palestinian Arabs living in Gaza. But I don’t believe it for a second; if they believe that their actions express that kind of support they must be completely ignorant or misguided (I wonder what would be a result of potential ‘free-elections’ in Gaza – wouldn’t Hamas have won them?). Meanwhile, in the US, Jewish students are subject to violent attacks on college campuses and streets!!! Can you believe that? In the USA??? What times do we live in? In the 1930s? I can go on and on but it’s unnecessary because the examples are numerous. The question is: who is responsible for that? A better question would be: what is responsible for that. The answer is: brainwashing. And get ready now, don’t you dare be triggered by my words because I’m going to call it by its name: it is this neo-marxist brainwashing that has been carried out in universities and other educational institutions in America for the last 30-40 years. It is this simplistic, postmodern ideology that views all social phenomena through the lens of only one phenomenon: power. It is this relativist ideology that fundamentally rejects notions of (moral) right and wrong and teaches people to see social reality only through the dichotomy of those who have power, who are, by definition, ‘oppressors’ – morally compromised people, with no virtue – and those who don’t have power or have less power, who are – again, by definition – good and virtuous, simply because they are ‘oppressed’. This way of viewing social reality is preposterous and appalling. The result of the doctrine that views everything exclusively through the lens of power is living in the world of thoughtless, idiotic glorification of powerlessness, weakness and resentment. This whole situation shows us what rejecting the fundamental notions of right and wrong leads to. And that’s exactly why these people tear down these posters – because they question their ignorant, simplistic, black and white worldview, so out of a cognitive dissonance they want not to see them. 

But even though our society is highly polarized, in reality it’s not black and white. Ignoring the nuances in peoples’ worldviews differences is a fundamental mistake. Western societies are a spectrum of people with various beliefs. That’s why it is important not to get triggered, not to judge people too quickly, not to burst into anger for no reason and preserve all friendly relationships, even with those who err in our eyes, whom we see as misguided. We need to work on our reactions and minimize the possibility of being triggered. In these difficult times it is important to respond to everything calmly, with as much of a good faith we can have because every friendly relationship is worth preserving. 

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Menachem Mirski 



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