Know Your Enemy

The other day, when paused at a red light, I found myself facing a bumper sticker attached to the car in front of me. In big, block letters, it said: RESIST.

We Jews are used to the concept of keeping a motto before our eyes to keep us spiritually focused; Shivisi Hashem L’Negdi Samid is the one that most popularly comes to mind. This bumper sticker struck me as another such useful reminder. Resist… whom? The yetzer hara, of course! In the never-ending battle with our evil inclination, it’s imperative that we remain strong and canny, to resist its blandishments. To make sure we always have the upper hand. To stay on course.

I was enjoying this thought when suddenly, under that bumper sticker, I noticed another one. It read: BERNIE 2016. A few days later, I spotted the same RESIST sticker, accompanied by a HILLARY 2016.

The sight of the second bumper sticker took all the perceived grandeur out of the sentiment. Instead of exhorting me to defy my darker impulses, to rise above my animal self to the majesty of spiritual self-control, this was just another political shout. And then I started wondering: Resist whom, exactly?

Resistance is usually associated with situations that feature an oppressor and the oppressed. France, at the end of the eighteenth century, and Russia near the start of the twentieth, saw a desperate and downtrodden populace rise up against their rich, tyrannical overlords. In a different vein, Occupied France formed a courageous resistance movement to counter the Nazi invaders. What in the world does any of this have to do with the Democratic Party in twenty-first-century America?

I understand that a political race can give rise to a warlike mentality. The other party must be defeated in the election so that yours can triumph. Their platform must be denigrated so that yours can prevail. Battle strategies are devised and carried out. But the word RESIST implies something far more sinister than any of that. It carries dark overtones of oppression. It hints at victimhood. It depicts a group pinned beneath the boot of a ruthless despot and struggling to win free.

The driver of the vehicle that featured that bumper sticker is presumably well-fed and decently educated. He or she has been nurtured in the great, sheltering arms of this country. The last I looked, we were living in a democracy. We have the freedom to vote our conscience and the right of free speech to express our views. We have the freedom to choose where we live, which profession we embrace and how we lead our lives. There are no cruel despots or ruthless armies trying to turn our government into a dictatorship. So who or what, exactly, are we being exhorted to “resist?”

It seems to me that the enemy exists only in the exhorters’ minds.

This would be laughable, if it weren’t so dangerous. Taking people who are not downtrodden and convincing them that they are does two things. First, it is a call to arms, turning the so-called oppressed against their so-called oppressors, with all the discord and even violence such a scenario may portend. And, second, it absolves the “victim” of the responsibility to live up to anything. How can a pitiable and pathetic victim of oppression be expected to honor any objective standard? Instead, he is given free rein to express his discontent. To rise up in fury against those who would hold him back. To resist.

To see just how twisted this position can be, all we need to do is observe the world’s take on Gaza. The State of Israel is seen as a cruel and ruthless occupation force trampling on the rights of the poor victims on the other side of the fence… who, meanwhile, are spending their time sending fiery kites into Israeli fields and lethal rockets into kindergartens. By sheer virtue of being the perceived “victims” in this scenario, they are able to act with impunity. To paraphrase the familiar retailers’ slogan: The victim is always right.

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It’s important to know who your real enemy is. In many situations in life, it’s all too easy to slide into a “me-against-them” attitude that casts you as the victim of the story. Many schoolchildren adopt this approach. They regard their teachers as the enemy simply because they hold all the power. By setting themselves on the opposite side of the fence from those who are trying to educate them, students are essentially doing the same thing as that driver with the bumper sticker: they are embracing victimhood. They don’t understand that their teachers are there to benefit them. They don’t notice the earnest hard work that goes into each lesson or give credit to the good intensions behind every interaction.

Of course there is the occasional exception to the rule: a teacher who abuses his power just because he can. By and large, however, teachers are a dedicated bunch, and what they’re dedicated to is our children. It’s only the youngsters’ immaturity that makes them perceive the teachers as the enemy.

The Hippies, in the 1960s, declared the Establishment—that is, their parents’ generation—the enemy. Anyone over 30 was suspect. Anyone with silver or white hair became irrelevant. They were going to fight the tyranny of custom and convention and create a brave new world. Many of the social changes we experience today have their roots in that struggle. If the established way of doing things becomes “the enemy,” then change becomes desirable for its own sake. A dangerous state of affairs.

In personal terms, we have to know who our enemy is, too. Many people were critical of former president Obama for refusing to name fundamentalist Islamic terrorists as America’s enemy. How can you fight an enemy that you won’t name? Our job is to identify the enemy within, so that we can fight and eventually triumph over it. The darker side of our nature may not be a savory sight, but it must be confronted if we are to have any chance at all of beating it.

Let’s save our fights for those who are truly our enemies. Both the flesh-and-blood zealots who would like to wipe us off the face of the planet so that they can reign supreme, and the inner drive that prompts us to give free expression to our lower selves. Let’s send up a prayer for the discernment to know against whom to direct our struggles.

One we have identified the enemy, we are free to harness every particle of our will and energy to oppose it.

Because as long as we have the ability to choose right over wrong, we are not victims.