Haftorah This Week
Welcome to Haftorah This Week, the place where you will find thoughts and
reflections by CLAL faculty and associates on this week's Haftorah.
"The paths of the Lord are straight--the righteous walk on them whereas the wicked
stumble and fall on them." (Hosea 14:10)
The prophet expresses one of the great paradoxes of human life and behavior. Most often
good and evil actions are not polar opposites. The choice between good and evil is
typically not a simple turn toward one direction or the other. As the Talmud puts it:
"The line between Heaven and Hell is as wide as a hair's breadth."
In many aspects of life, it is not the action but how you do it that makes an act good
or bad. Human power and technology produce the goods that make for dignity, affluence and
culture. This is good use of power. However, if the technology is pushed too far, it
begins to create pollution that poisons the environment. Finally, it threatens the
biosphere itself. So it is not the exercise of power but how you use it that determines
whether one's actions are good or bad.
Parental love nurtures children. Parental concern gives family members the sense of
worth that enables them to grow into mature human beings. But that same love may be
exercised overprotectively, turning the child dependent and fearful. Parental love may
become possessive and undermine the child; it may even become obsessive or abusive and
destroy the child.
Criticism is a mitzvah, says the Torah. People can only grow if they are corrected. But
criticism that is petty, corrosive or dismissive is an assault on the other. Then the
other will not listen, or he/she may even be driven deeper into sin and misbehavior. Is
criticism, then, a mitzvah or a sin? It all depends on how you do it.
The line between prudence and irresponsible caution, the line between satire and
cruelty, the line between industriousness and workaholism, the line between
adventurousness and recklessness, the line between open-mindedness and opportunism or
trendiness, the line between pluralism and relativism, the line between determined faith
and fanaticism--all are shifting, subtle, hard to define, subject to judgment and
misjudgment. The line is often as thick as a hair's breadth; whether the line is
overstepped depends on whether the person acting is driven by egotistic distortion or
How then do we know when we do it right? We must exercise our freedom covenantally. The
outcome often depends on our maturity, our self-critical awareness, our sincerity. In the
end, there is no guarantee. That is why there are no substitutes for conscience and
In the end, God's ways are straight. The righteous will try hard and will reach a moral
and good outcome. The wicked will turn that same type of behavior into cruelty, excess and
abuse. Sometimes the wicked will convince themselves and even society that what they do is
good. But God will know.
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