My favorite James Dean movie is East of Eden. The story moved me so much that I decided to read the book by John Steinbeck. I had the pleasure of visiting the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, CA, where I learned that Steinbeck considered East of Eden the culmination of his life’s work. He struggled with it all his life because he wanted to truly understand the fundamental ability to choose light or darkness.
God said to Cain, “If you do well, shall you not be accepted? But if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. It desires to dominate you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:7) Steinbeck’s East of Eden tells us that no matter what happens, you always have a choice.
The power to choose
There’s so much awful news: Tel Aviv, Orlando, the Stanford rape case, a British MP gunned down, and plenty more that I don’t know about. In each case someone made a choice to do evil; they chose darkness.
Debates are raging right now about why these tragedies happened. I’m not qualified to give an opinion about changes that need to be made in society and I’m not going to try. This post is about the power to choose.
The family of a police officer saw someone running from the scene of the Tel Aviv terror attack. He was badly shaken and could hardly speak. They brought him in and gave him water. The officer ran to the scene and when he saw that the detained shooter was dressed exactly like the man in his house, he rushed back, fearing the worst. Indeed, the family had sheltered the second shooter. The officer arrested him in the living room.
This family chose to help someone who looked to be in shock. Without a doubt, the situation could have ended tragically, but instead we have an example of what compassion to one’s neighbors looks like.
At Stanford, two Swedish graduate students pulled the rapist off of his victim and held him down until police arrived. The victim was completely unconscious, could not defend herself, and likely would not have been able to remember the events of what happened in order to bring her attacker to justice.
It was late at night. The two students could have passed by and done nothing. Instead, they chose to protect a young woman in a horrible situation.
Choosing to stand together
Sometimes you can’t save the person in danger, but you can stand beside the mourners. Two stories I came across – and surely there are many more – remind us that it’s fine to “Je suis …” and change your profile pictures, but actions are so much more powerful.
A rabbi brought members of his congregation to grieve with mourners of the Orlando terror attack. Just showing up was enough.
A flight crew found out that a passenger was on her way to her grandson’s funeral. He was one of the victims in Orlando. All the passengers wrote notes and when they deplaned, every person stopped to personally give their condolences.
Shavuot in Israel – Standing together
This week also marked Shavuot in Israel. Shavuot is the fiftieth day after Passover and marks the date that the Israelites received the Ten Commandments at Sinai. It’s a pilgrimage holiday meaning that when the Temple stood, people came to offer sacrifices. Today, we aren’t offering sacrifices, but we still stand together, raise our voices in song, and choose life.
Here’s a video I took while watching the sunrise on Shavuot at the Western Wall
From a single candle, thousands can be lit
When I watch the sun rise over the people and hear them singing, I know that the world is going to be okay. Some people choose to do evil. This is a fact and we see plenty of evidence of it. But more people choose to do good. More people choose light. Sure, there may be moments .of regret, but every day we have a choice. We can choose light and keep choosing it until we break down the power of darkness.