Off the Pulpit: Inner-directed Truth


Much of our kindness comes from fear — if I do not act this way another person or group of people will think less of me or be angry at me. This is not necessarily a bad motivation; we are social creatures and a ‘decent respect for the opinions of mankind’ is written into our founding document. But it is not the highest motivation either.

Kindness that arises from a sense of sympathy or of justice is stronger and surer. Abraham does not greet the strangers because he fears they will disdain this inhospitable nomad if he stays in his tent. Jeremiah does not berate the people because he thinks they will kick him out of the prophetic circles if he keeps quiet. Such figures are ‘inner directed’ — their heroism arising from a deep sense of right and wrong, of goodness unrelated to the judgment of others.

In an age when we are seen and rated and judged every minute of the day, when social media scores our souls and calibrates our characters, the Torah is a powerful corrective. How you stand before your own deep values and before God is higher than the passing opinion of your neighbor.

(Rabbi David Wolpe is the senior rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles.)


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