Oh, I was dying to just end it there. Wouldn’t that have been awesome? But I guess I should explain what I mean a little more.
It hasn’t been proven, but I believe that people learn to act either dominantly or passively as a response to their environment. You learn your place in society. Can I get stuff by demanding it, by taking it, or by being given it? Whichever one works is the one you stick with.
Were your parents authoritative, and controlling? Then you’ll be one of those “nice” guys. You will do so because you’re neurotic and still unconsciously fearful of repercussions. Did your mother wait on you hand and foot? Then you’ll expect all women to give you things if you demand it. Did you grow up rich and privileged? Then you take what you want from the lesser folks.
This seems logical, but for some reason, most people have a hard time deviating from standard definitions of good and evil. It’s so much easier when people fall into pre-established categories. But people aren’t evil or good by nature. What they are is adaptive. Can I survive by smacking this guy? No. This guy? Yes. The “super-nice” emotional guy might be a doormat to an adult, but a tyrant to his children. These are all learned. There is no choice involved.
What about the guy who feels like beating/molesting a child, and stops himself for no other reason than because God is watching? This man believes he’ll receive a super-smack in the afterlife. Choosing to forgo a bar of delicious chocolate from Chernobyl may be smart, but it’s not righteous.
The one I would call a ‘Tzaddik’, is someone who sees himself as part of a larger body. The deeper theologies, such as Kabbalah, stress this idea. Moshe saw himself as part of Israel, ‘one with nature’, so to speak. When Hashem told him he’ll wipe Israel out, and rebuild with just him, Moshe said no, we are all one, part of each other, part of creation, part of God.
This is a higher level, of course, but is a righteous man on a different plane of existence, acting with some ethereal value like ‘altruism’? I don’t think so. He has so-called ‘Daas Elyon’, elevated understanding. His mind sees the seemingly differentiated parts of the world from a larger perspective. But he still acts kindly because he sees it as helping himself. We are all connected, we are all one, therefore I am you. I will do a Mitzva because I am one with God, I am God.
I’ll point out a practical difference to illustrate my point. If I am a good Christian with Daas Elyon, living in the American South in 1850, I might fight for the rights of every White man, and own Black slaves. That’s because black people are not part of me. They are lower. I may feel that they are deserving of the same respect and good treatment as other animals by being part of the larger circle of life that I am, but they don’t have the ‘human soul’ that makes me see other white men as part of me.
The tzaddik, then, doesn’t operate on a different playing field. He has accepted certain ideas as truths that allow him to play the game differently, relative to how much of these elevated truths he has accepted. I believe the same idea can be applied to God as well. We believe He takes an active role in us because he cares about us. But He cares about us because we are Him.
Note: I originally posted this a while ago (June 5th, to be exact), so it’s a little different in style than what I’d write today, but the topic just came up in the comments on the Two Angels post, and I figured I’d post it again. Also, this was one of my earlier posts, when I didn’t have a lot of readers, so about 10 people total have read this piece on my site. I think I might start reposting some of my earlier posts that I thought were good when I wrote them, but didn’t get many views.