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Jewish World Review /Jan. 8, 1999 /19 Teves, 5759

Dr. Laura

Dr. Laura Don't use others' misfortunes to build your self-image

(JWR) --- (http://www.jewishworldreview.com) THE STORY OF MOSES is big-time entertainment lately, from Spielberg's "Prince of Egypt," the full-length animated movie, to the spate of books that present themselves as biographies of a not-well-fleshed-out, but pivotal, character of the Exodus.

The story is inspiring and frightening, as G-d's demands for justice and freedom are contested by Egypt's Pharaoh, their so-called "living god." The 10 Plagues (including darkness, boils, and death of the firstborn) result in agonizing terror for the Egyptian people, as G-d demanded through Moses that his people be let go.

The yearly Passover Seder is a retelling of this story so that every generation understands and appreciates the blessings of this act of salvation.

However, something very important occurs at the Seder table during the reading of each of the 10 plagues. Each person places his or her little finger into individual glasses of red wine and puts a "red tear" on a plate, representing the compassion for the pain of those who suffered during this saga. The tears are not for the Hebrews.

They are for the Egyptians.

Central to Jewish tradition is the profound understanding that one is never to rejoice in the pain, suffering or death of another person. This does not preclude an elation for one's own safety, the safety of others, or for the final triumph of justice and righteousness. It simply means that the pain or death of any human being is not an opportunity for celebration, laughter or gloating.

All peoples are made in G-d's image and are blessed with the divine gift of life and holiness. For this reason alone, all men are created equal. Without mutual respect, we become only animals, rather than the only creatures on the face of the Earth who can contemplate, and strive to emulate, the divine.

Unfortunately, this is not a mentality that permeates our society --- or even our species. When we envy someone her beauty, talent, accomplishments, success or happiness, don't we laugh when we see her fail, be embarrassed or exposed?

When we disagree with someone's political opinions or position, don't we delight in revelations of his inconsistency?

Our own personal disappointments, frustrations, disagreements or discomforts do not give us license to be cruel or enjoy the pain of others. Relishing the misfortunes or embarrassment of others, even when you believe they deserve it, displays the least admirable qualities of a human being. That isn't a true "win." Rather, it's a true loss of basic humanity.

When tragedy befalls someone you don't like, it's not time for joy. When embarrassment comes to someone you envy, it's not time for gladness. When loss or failure comes to somebody who has what you covet, it's not time for delight.

When hurt comes to someone with whom you disagree, it's not time for exultation.

These empty moments of personal glory are just ugly. You cannot build your character, soul or life by tearing others down to feel superior.

You become "something" only through your own honest efforts. You become "nothing" only through gloating about others' misfortune.


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©1998,Universal Press Syndicate