Character and Responsibility

Rabbi Irwin Wiener, D.D.

Numerous times we hear from different people that their concept of right and wrong can be found in their understanding of spirituality. It is used frequently to describe a partnership with God that requires confrontation, not acceptance. We are required, even obligated, to question God, because to do so enables us to understand the meaning of life. All of us, at one time or another, struggle with the notion of God and are determined to comprehend the true essence of our relationship. This is the formula for building character by assuming responsibility.

So, what is it that we question? Primarily, I would suggest that we are concerned with the existence of evil. There has always been evil. There will always be evil. This is the eternal quest: to understand why there is evil and the part it plays in the elaborate roadmap called creation.

On the other hand, we are also romantics, always thinking that good will be ultimately victorious over evil. The psalmist and the prophets talk about a time when all will be right with the world and, yet, we still grapple with the notion of evil vs. good. Perhaps we spend too much time on why, and not enough time on “what.”

By this, I mean that while we sometimes may feel righteous indignation, we cannot fully determine our role until we understand that we must try to be the best we are capable of and that a partnership with God requires us to be a community of people concerned with survival. And our survival requires this relationship with each other.

The “what” also contains the understanding that we must take responsibility for our actions. Adam, when confronted by God about eating from the Tree of Knowledge, against God’s wishes, argues that he is blameless—“The woman made me do it.”

Not taking responsibility is contrary to the concept of respect for life. Not speaking out when we witness injustice is contrary to this understanding of the regard for life. We are responsible to and for each other, and we need to be concerned about all that is around us, because we cannot exist alone. If we are to be true partners with God, then we are obligated to act as a true partner, not as passive, accepting, and fate-filled participants.

We are witnessing at this very moment the results of being passive in our relationship with each other. The indiscriminate murders taking place in our communities, the systemic racism that has polarized our society, the wanton destruction of our cities, the total denial of responsibility of our decay, the disregard for our religious obligations as determined by Scripture. How much more of “what” do we not understand? Someone else made me do it is not acceptable.

This is the calling of mankind: to be guardians, promoters, and messengers. We have been in the forefront of helping people live with dignity. We spoke out when we witnessed injustice for all minorities—people of color or immigrants or various religious persuasions. We seem to have lost our way in the maze of hate-filled rhetoric and persecution. We somehow forgot that we must enable humanity to be productive and caring, without fear of life and limb. We seem to have lost our ability to partner with God in ensuring peace and tranquility.

We have a duty to follow the dictates of our conscience in participating in the saving of all lives by beginning with the saving of one. We have a moral responsibility to resist selfishness. We have an obligation to ensure that life will continue through grace. And we were created in the Divine image in which God accomplished one part of the equation of the partnership. Our effort should be the completion of that partnership: the survival of humanity and the survival of our planet.

This truly is what we were created for. Our character is built on the foundation of our responsibilities.