The sin of bullying recently raised its ugly head in the aftermath of the death of a local high school student. Sadly, there had been a traumatic history of bullying by peers, and a lack of concrete support to remedy the serious problem.
Bullying comes in many disguises and is often hard to detect. Often the aggressor hides behind plausible deniability.
The short term cure is that institutional leaders become much more proactive in addressing bullying concerns.
However, the long term cure must begin with a fundamental shift in how we encourage a community to become inclusive and more loving.
In order for our children to participate in this shift, parents and other role models must exemplify in their words and actions how such inclusiveness is a manifest part of their lives.
In Judaism, the rabbis did not believe that human beings are either intrinsically good or bad.
Instead, we are born with a yetzer ha-ra (the bad inclination) and a yetzer ha-tov (the good inclination). We believe that God gave us His Torah (Divine Instructions) so that we would properly develop our yetzer ha-tov.
Our Torah learning teaches us how to control our bad impulses, channeling what could be a "negative" into an ultimate "positive."
For example, the impulse for selfish behavior can be channeled into a strong internal work ethic whereby we can accomplish individual success, and yet tithe our time and resources to take care of others in need. In addition to the Torah, Jewish communal life helped foster the growth of the yetzer ha-tov.
Communal peer pressure, led by rabbinic leadership, put in place clear expectations for what was acceptable behavior and what was not.
When individuals went beyond the point of acceptance, the community would apply different levels of pressure (i.e. public rebuke, economic penalties, and in the extreme, ex-communication).
The primary catalyst for the mitzvah to "love our neighbor as ourselves" is the full acceptance of our dogmatic belief that every human being is created equally in the holy image of God.
If every human being were to actually accept this one Divine principle as true and binding, all other moral behaviors would appropriately fall in place.
The work for this holy goal, however, isn't a passive exercise. We need to constantly review our own words and actions, as well as those of the ones we love. The primary partner of God is considered the Parent. (The Hebrew verb root for Torah, Parent and Teacher is etymologically the same.)
Parents can't be blind to the yetzer ha-ra that exists in themselves or their children. Parental love is non-existent if parents do not construct effective means by which the yetzer ha-ra is held in check, and the yetzer ha-tov is purposefully cultivated.
There is a wise push for anti-bullying laws for communities.
However, the real success for eliminating bullying will come when every parent and every member of a community demands youths and adults take ethical responsibility for their behaviors. It's only with this action that God's presence can truly be brought into our world.
With our recent observance of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), amidst our prayerful reflections, I asked our congregational family to pray that we honestly analyze our own attitudes and behaviors so we can determine specific steps to make ourselves more effective in our ethical relationships with others, and to ensure that our children do the same.
Rabbi Mitchell M. Hurvitz, senior rabbi at Temple Sholom of Greenwich, is co-founder of the Sholom Center for Interfaith Learning and Fellowship and a past president of the Greenwich Fellowship of Clergy For an archive of past Greenwich Citizen columns, please visit www.templesholom.com.