I am teaching a course in Mussar, the Jewish ethical training system. One of the Mussar teachings is that each of us contains an Inner Adversary (Yetzer haRah) perfectly tailored to our own psychology, and designed to challenge us to grow ethically at every state of our moral development. It is as if we were each born with an inner moral coach who comes up with tests designed to both test the quality of our present level of attainment and push us toward an even higher one.
While I find the idea intriguing, I must admit that I tended to take it in a somewhat abstract and even off-handed manner. Perhaps because I did so my Inner Adversary decided to work overtime.
Over the past seven days I have received more hate mail that at any other time in my writing career with the single exception of the essay I published in Spirituality & Health magazine critical of The Secret. Most of the mail was from people angry over the way I am teaching a three-week introduction to Islam for Jews.
The basic criticism is that I am whitewashing Islam, making it respectable, when, in fact, it is the greatest threat to Jews, Americans, and democracy in the 21st century. I was called a self-hating Jew, and anti-Semite, a Muslim sympathizer, and a terrorist collaborator.
I admit to being naïve when it comes to people’s responses to my work, and I admit to being shocked, hurt, and not a little frightened by the venom I sensed in these emails. The synagogue hosting this seminar has hired an off-duty police officer to help insure that things do not turn physically violent.
At first I was just stunned and upset by what was happening. Then I remembered the Inner Adversary and, without putting too fine a point on this, began to see this as the work of Yetzer haRah. In other words I set up the conditions that would invite the responses that would force me to look at what I was doing.
Regarding Islam and the teaching of religion in general, I always present the religions I teach in their best light. I want people to learn something positive from these traditions. I also believe that each religion contains gems of wisdom from which all can benefit. So I teach each religion as the best and brightest followers of that faith see that faith. Once we have a sense of that, however, I can and do turn to the darker aspects of the faith.
I also got two letters from a very thoughtful and passionate man responding to my earlier post “I am not Open-Minded.” This gentleman found my basic philosophy empty of any intellectual value whatsoever. I posted both letters in the comments section of that blog entry so you can read them for yourself.
I read his two emails carefully, hoping that I might see where my logic is faulty, and where I need to rethink what I think. The truth is I am still convinced that what I say is not only true, but also compelling.
This of course doesn’t prove either point. All it proves is that I am failing to grow from the efforts of my Yetzer haRah. I’m sorry about that for two reasons. First because it might mean I have reached my intellectual plateau, and, second, because it might mean my Yetzer haRah will try harder.
Disagree with me all you want, but be nice. I bruise easily.