Human Nature

Copyright Rabbi Eli Hecht
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As you know, human nature is not predictable. Each and every one of us reacts to situations in a different way.

I remember a fellow classmate in high school having a strange eating ritual. Whenever he picked up a slice of bread to eat, he would hold the slice vertically. One slice of bread would be placed on the bottom palm of his hand. If he would be able to bring the top crust to touch the bottom crust without having the soft middle break, then he would eat the bread. If it was a bit hard to bend or if it would break, then he would not eat the bread.

Being very curious, I asked him about his strange eating habit. He explained to me that his parents had lived in Nazi concentration camps and were nearly starved to death. After the war they fled from Europe to Toronto, Canada where they became very rich. They vowed to never serve their family any food that wasn't very fresh and they would only eat the freshest bread possible. So he showed the children how to test for the freshness of bread. This test became second nature for my friend.

In contrast I had a second friend who always kissed his bread before eating it. At times his sandwich looked as if there was mold from stale bread. I asked him to explain why he kissed the moldy bread. He told me that his mother was on one of the last transports to the Auschwitz death camp. On the way she and her family were starving when at a short stop someone threw an old loaf of bread into their car. That loaf of bread kept her and 23 family members alive.

His mother eventually married and moved to New York. She vowed never to throw away bread. At the wedding of her children she danced with a loaf of bread. Her son never threw away any part of the bread. Bread was too valuable.

The above vignettes show two families basically exposed to adverse conditions. Each family learned how to cope and instruct their children in different ways.

People really react differently to situations.

A few weeks ago a woman came to see me with the following problem.

She is happily married. She loves her husband and children. They are a middle-class family and try to do the right things.

They have a house, two cars and a pet dog and cat. One day they received a flyer in the mail that stated there are too many cats around. "The best thing you can do for the cat population," said the flyer, "is to have them neutered and kept sterile." Thinking this was a good idea to help California and mankind, she made an appointment to have the cat sterilized.

That night she casually mentioned it to her husband. In a totally unexpected rage the husband went on a tirade of words that was interpreted to mean, "How can you do this to G‑ds creatures? Its a sin."  So, the appointment was canceled.

This month she found out that she is pregnant. She told her husband who almost went crazy. "How could you do this to me? I don't want more children. Why dont you have yourself sterilized? You should have an abortion." The woman was totally overwhelmed and came to see me with both stories, expecting me to make sense of her husband's reactions to both situations.

In California the media reported that two homeless people got into a terrible fight over an area for sleeping. Since there was only one place for the two of them, a fight broke out. Unfortunately, one of the homeless people was killed in the fight. The policeman was heard saying, "These things happen all the time."

That same week Californians were told that a large grizzly bear had a new home. It seems that every once in a while this bear would venture out and jump into hot tubs or eat food from the garbage of residences.

When the police came and were going to shoot the bear, a citizens group was formed to save the bear. Consequently, enough money was collected to build the bear a home, complete with a waterfall and hot tub. Too bad a bear has a better chance at life then a homeless person.

It seems that human nature is capable of justifying completely irrational behavior. What is crystal clear to one person may be very hazy to another.

The above three stories got me thinking about life and purpose. Who knows the reasons why people do what they do. I keep on thinking, our generation is  blessed in knowledge and science and we must have the answers.

If only there was a way for us to be kind, loving, and compassionate, what a great world we would have. There is one thing we can do. Think of the other person's perspective before we judge them! By doing so we may find that we can help make this world a better place for all of us.