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March 30, 2023

Distinction between Ego and Unique Self #17: Justice or Injustice

(c) 2011 Photo courtesy of Salvatore Vuono.

©2011 Photo courtesy of Salvatore Vuono.

by Dr. Marc Gafni in Your Unique Self.

The ego is angry at what is done to it. It very rarely feels the same outrage at what is done to someone else. The Unique Self is not merely outraged against injustice done to its own person; it is hurt and outraged by any and all injustice. The ego often fights large causes of injustice as a way to bolster its grandiosity. Unique Self fights the battles of injustice in its own backyard, even when there is potential collateral damage to its own power and status.


Further Discussion:


One of the things this distinction reminds us of is the importance of responding to real hurt in the world.  In one call from the Living Beyond Complexity telecourse Dr. Marc Gafni co-taught with Clint Fuhs, Nicole Fegley, and Zak Stein, Marc spent one entire phone call expounding upon the “problem of evil” in the world, also referred to as a “theodicy.”  In the course of the call, he explained that the level-three response to enormous suffering in the world is to cry out “Why?” in pain, to feel the pain, and to question the injustice behind it, which is part of the tikkun, or fixing, of the injustice.  In one of his earlier manuscripts entitled Uncertainty, (a book that will be rereleased along with his manuscript for Certainty), Marc explores the Talmudic teaching on this.  An excerpt of that discussion is reprinted below from the chapter entitled “The Path of Wrestling”:

Excerpt from Uncertainty (“Path of Wrestling” Chapter): Why cry out?

By Dr. Marc Gafni

As the Talmudic myth has it, there were three powerful people in the Pharaoh’s court when he made his decision to oppress Jewish slaves. With them he consulted: Jethro, Bilaam, and Job. Jethro said, “Don’t kill the Jewish people.” Jethro ran away: he couldn’t participate in this canon of evil-doing. Jethro was rewarded (according to one version of the legend) with a son-in-law to be proud of – Moses. Bilaam, a Midianite prophet, said, “Destroy the Jewish people”, and Bilaam, “quid pro quo”, was destroyed by the sword. The Talmud then says, “Job was silent, and was sentenced to torment.”

The story is troubling! Punishment is always supposed to be quid pro quo, say the interpreters of the Talmudic text. Punishment is supposed to educate, to edify. Therefore, there needs to be in the punishment some reflection of the violation. For example, the Egyptians tormented the Jews through water – throwing their first born in the Nile; thus they were punished by water – drowning in the Red Sea. When I know why it hurts, I can use the hurt for growth. God wants us to grow so she punishes us in a way which reveals the cause of the punishment.  How does Job’s awful punishment relate to his silence?  More essentially, all Job did was be silent. After all, what could Job have done? What difference could he have made? Jethro’s protest did not end the slavery: only God was able to do that.

It would seem like Job was silent for the same tragic reason that most of us in the world did very little about Bosnia, about Rwanda, and about Cambodia. Suffering is all over the world, and yet how many of us even wrote a postcard in protest? How many people picked up a pen? Or picked up a phone? Why?  I don’t think it was because we didn’t care. So what was our rationalization? How do we explain it to ourselves?

We say to ourselves, “You know what, we’re not really going to make a difference.” The chances are that if most people knew they could definitely make a difference, knew that protesting or crying out would actually prevent atrocities, all our streets would be crammed with screaming demonstrators. Why does this not happen? Because we believe that we’re not going to alter anything. And because we believe we’re not going to make a difference, we are silent.

This is the Job story. He knew that pharaoh had already made up his mind to kill the Jews. His consulting with his advisors was an exercise in form, not a request for substantive input. Job says to himself, “If I could make a difference, of course I would protest. But the die has been cast, and I don’t have the tools to change anything. So I will be silent.”

God doesn’t buy it. God says: “Let’s see, Job, if you’re telling the truth. Let’s see if the real reason for your silence was helplessness.” And Job begins to suffer. Physically, financially, emotionally, he is nearly destroyed. And what does Job do? He yells. He screams. And God says, “Is that you, Job?” And Job says, “What do you mean, is it me? It hurts so much!” And God says, “Job, why are you screaming? Does it help? I know it’s uncomfortable, but does it help when you scream? Does the hurt go away at all?” And Job says to God, “God, don’t you know anything about human beings? When it hurts, we scream.” And God says: “Ahah, so if you’re able to be silent, it means that it doesn’t hurt.”

If we are able to be silent about the evil in the world, it means that it doesn’t hurt us. Job is punished for his silence. We need to acknowledge the hurt throughout the world, even if we are deeply uncertain if there is anything we can do to help. The talmudic passage is suggesting that even in this helplessness, even in the futility of doubt, we must act in the uncertainty by crying out from the depths of our soul.

But if we were to cry out, to whom would we cry? To God? But surely to cry out and challenge God would be to lose God? Surely to argue with God is to lose the certainty of our relationship? Like the comforters of Job, we avoid questioning God so as to keep our relationship intact. We deaden our nerves, we block up our ears, or we blame the victims for their sins. Or if it hurts too much, like Dinah/Mrs. Job we let go of God. “Curse God and die.”

I would like to suggest that Judaism offers a third alternative. Job’s way.

The Talmud, which takes Job to task for his silence in the face of suffering, implies a stunning understanding of the book of Job. In effect, the cries of Job in his book are the Tikkun – the fixing of Job’s silence. Job – who does not protest – becomes the archetype of the scream of protest.

The difficulty however is not with the answer, but with the process. How did Jeremiah, Daniel, and the Rabbis have the audacity to do what they did? How did they assume the authority to uproot the divinely-inspired words of Moses? The Talmud responds: “Because they knew that God is true, they did not want to be false to him.” They deleted words from a sacred text, rather than express that which was not true to their experience. And, adds the 11th century commentary of Rashi driving home the point: “God affirms that which is true, and God hates that which is a lie.” Clearly, Rashi is not talking about an objective lie, but rather that which is a lie to our experience. To say that God is King when in our core we are uncertain of God’s kingship, is to lie. And to violate the essential prerequisite of honesty in religious language is to violate God: God hates lies. The Talmud gives us the right to avoid religious expression which does not reflect our deepest certainty. We are not to claim false certainty. Rather, we are allowed to plead the Fifth Amendment; we have the right of silence.

But are we allowed to challenge? Does Biblical consciousness allow us room to move beyond silence and bid God the King to enter into the wrestling ring? Can I cry out to God and say: “Yes, you exist, but are you relevant? Are you a personal God who is just and fair, or are you a God who allows a million children to be destroyed in the Holocaust?”

I grew up on the story of a little girl who saw a baby ripped apart in front of her by the Gestapo – and then buried the pieces. Apparently she had been hidden by a Christian family during the holocaust. Someone suspected her of being Jewish. The Gestapo came and massacred the house. The girl hid in a tree and watched the goings on below. When the Gestapo left, she put the baby back together and buried him. She tells me that today, as she nears sixty, the baby’s face, his features, are becoming clear. The girl is my mother. It was the defining story of my childhood. I heard it a thousand times. What are we do with the stories of horror we’ve experienced and the stories horror we’ve received?  May we scream our question towards God, demanding, in all of our human brokenness, an answer? If we challenge the majesty of God can we still remain in relationship?

Excerpt from Uncertainty Chapter, “The Path of Rage”:

If I am able to recognize evil for what it is, then I am ipso facto obligated in tikkun olam – the obligation to act for and with God in the healing of the world. Man is the language of God. We are God’s adjectives, God’s adverbs, God’s nouns and sometimes even God’s dangling modifiers. We are God’s vocabulary in the world. When I love, when I am able to be truly vulnerable and intimate with another human being, when I am able to share the pain of another and to rejoice in their deep joy, I am acting for God. I become God’s chariot in the world. More than this: if I can wrestle with God, if I can express my uncertainty with God in the intimacy of challenging relationship, then paradoxically, I convert my doubt into the core certainty of divine relationship.

The Question is the Answer

It is to this paradox that we will now turn. The Israel Moment is one of grappling with God within the uncertainty. Within the very recesses of the Israel Moment however is a powerful Yehuda Moment. The Yehuda Moment is when I experience the core certainty of self, and therefore of my divinity—of my being loved by God. This experience is not only not in contradiction to the question, but wells up from the question itself…In the question is God. The question is the answer.

Here is how a similar principle of justice, what Marc has referred to as the “rage of light,” has been explored in the tradition of Hinduism. In an article entitled “The Boons of Kali,” CWS Teacher Sally Kempton writes:

“From the point of view of esoteric practice, Kali is the dynamic force of liberation, the inner evolutionary energy that awakens us and guides us to realization of our identity with divine Consciousness itself. In the path to freedom and enlightenment, the energy of Kali has the power to cut away the limitations that tie us, smashing our concepts, freeing us of beliefs, false personal identities, and everything else that keeps us from recognizing our true identity.”

She discusses the significance of this goddess further in her latest book Awakening Shakti (2013).

Join the conversation.

Consider how you can move beyond silence to cry out about injustice or dwell in the question itself, either in your life, in the life of a friend, or in the world around you?  Do you let injustice move you? How can you respond from the place of Unique Self?

Please share your responses in the comment section below or on the CWS Facebook page.

Be sure to also check out Dr. Marc Gafni’s profile on Twitter!

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