America the Angry: A Way Forward with Rabbi Moshe Scheiner

Part One of Contributing Editor Bob Jones’ conversation with Rabbi Moshe Scheiner of the Palm Beach Synagogue in Florida.

It's everywhere you look; rampant school shootings, a massacre at a synagogue, leaders spouting angry rhetoric and our own heated exchanges on social media.

America, land of the free and home of the brave, appears to be in the grip of fear and anger. The question is why and what can we do about it.

As I searched the internet for some perspective on this epidemic of fear, I happened upon a video of Rabbi Moshe Scheiner entitled Anger: Fear Announced.

Rabbi Moshe Scheiner Story

Twenty five years ago, Rabbi Scheiner and his wife Rebbetzin Dinie Scheiner founded Palm Beach Synagogue (PBS) where their mission has been one of outreach and inclusiveness.  The Palm Beach Daily News recently quoted him as he affirmed that PBS is a place where “Everyone feels welcome. No one is judged for lack of knowledge or observance.”

Rabbi Moshe E. Scheiner was born and raised in Brooklyn. He holds a Masters degree of Talmudic studies and Jewish philosophy from the Rabbinical College of America. He completed a two-year internship at the Rabbinical College of Australia and New Zealand and returned to New York to receive his rabbinic ordination at the United Lubavitcher Yeshiva.

He has lectured to communities in Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, Singapore, Colombia and, other communities throughout South America and the United States. In 1994 he became the founding Rabbi of the Palm Beach Synagogue. He also founded the Ethel & Eugene Joffe Maimonides Leadership Institute for post Bar and Bat Mitzvah students. Rabbi Scheiner resides in Palm Beach with his Rebbetzin, Dinie, and their six children.

After a brief introductory conversation with Rabbi Scheiner, I was convinced his was the voice of reason for which I was searching.  

Offered here in four parts are segments from our conversation on fear and anger.

Rabbi Scheiner's words and stories frame our nation's bitter and sometimes violent crisis, while offering a spiritual tonic for our troubled times.

Part 1: In this first part of our conversation, Rabbi Scheiner explores fear and the spiritual reality of God-With-Us.

Bob Jones:  Do you feel like anger and fear seem to be on the rise in your community and in the world? 

Rabbi Scheiner

Rabbi Scheiner:  I do.  I feel that as society drifts further away from spirituality and further towards materialism, we lose our spiritual equilibrium. And fear, as someone once told me, is F-E-A-R, which stands for False Evidence Appearing Real.  The world sometimes seems like a frightening place and when we stand as individual souls, disconnected from one another and we don't have our spiritual connection to each other, then our egos begin clashing with other people's egos and immediately we lose.

If one has faith and true spiritual connection with others then there's nothing to fear. As King David said in Psalm 23, "I fear no evil for you are with me."  So, I think we need to grow closer together to each other and closer together to God and that replaces fear with faith and disconnection and (God forbid) hatred or anger towards others with love and connection to one another. 

Rabbi Moshe Scheiner

Bob Jones:  As you were speaking I was thinking of the AA people (Alcoholics Anonymous) people who would say, "Ego is Edging God Out." 

Rabbi Scheiner:  Absolutely.  And one of the key teachings of Judaism is that our body is maybe different and separates from one another, but our souls are really all one because they come from one divine God.  And in order for God to be our father in heaven we have to be his family here on earth.  When we focus on our souls more than our physical beings and then realize that that’s the essence or our identity, we realize there's nothing to separates us or distinguishes us from our fellow man. 

We all have the same – we all know we have the same - color of blood.  We all have the same feelings and joys and sorrows and pains.  And when we realize our spirits are really made up of the same fabric cut from the same cloth, then we focus on our oneness rather than our separateness.  And I think that our society sometimes pulls us away from that message.  But the more we connect to that message and that idea, the more we are going to love and embrace others rather than fear them and reject them. 

Bob Jones:  Yeah, that reminds of your response to the horrific shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, when you said “The response to evil is increased goodness, the response to hatred is increased love, and the response to death is to help save the lives of others. 

Rabbi Scheiner:  Absolutely. 

Bob Jones:  When we respond to fear with anger what happens to us and to the other? 

Rabbi Scheiner:  So we become much smaller. 

King Solomon said it best when he said in the book of Proverbs ‘a little bit of light expels a great deal of darkness’.  The answer to darkness in the world is to just create light and then the darkness is driven out by itself. 

When we respond with malice and with anger we become a captive prisoner of our own anger, and it enslaves us to become subservient to a power which is very destructive, and harmful to our own physical, emotional and psychological and spiritual well-being.
Rabbi Scheiner on YouTube

As I pointed out on the video the word "DANGER" is one letter, just add a letter D to anger and you have DANGER. Because in our tradition it is said that the one trait that you shouldn't take is the middle path, but you should go to an extreme which is anger.  A person should never get angry.  The only time it says you can get angry is when you need to discipline a child and you need to act like you're angry. But a person should never get angry because anger is just desperate and multiplies the problem, increases the problem, and doesn't solve anything. 

Someone gave me the analogy that it's like your car in Park and you floor the gas pedal it makes a lot of noise, but it doesn't move anywhere.  A person who's angry is like a brain that is in park. He can't move and he's just making a lot of noise, but it's not going to get him anywhere because he's locked – in a lock position. Emotionally he’s locked. He can't hear. He can't receive. He can't grow. You can't evolve in that state. 

Rabbis take it so far in the Talmud that they say that anger is equivalent to idolatry. And you may say how could you equate anger with idolatry? I mean, idolatry is denying God's existence. And the answer is because if you truly believe everything in this world comes from God and everything that happens…every circumstance…is ordained from above, then you have no one to fear and no circumstance with fear because whatever circumstance you're in, God put you in that circumstance. 

And so it's like, I use the analogy of a mother going on a journey and that she's going from one country to the next and getting in and out of taxis, and going in to airports, and boarding planes and de-boarding.  And in every leg of the journey if you ask the mother where are you?  She’ll say, "Well, I'm in this country, I'm traveling to this city, I’m going to this town, I'm going on to this country."  But if the mother is carrying an infant baby and you ask the baby throughout the journey where are you?  The baby says, "I'm in the same place I always was they always was…in my mother's loving arms." 

If you go the journey of life feeling like you're controlling your destiny (and yes of course God gives us free will) but ultimately there's a Higher Power that decides the direction of our lives.  And when you know it's coming from a loving father in heaven then you could accept it and say, ‘Well, this is a test.  God's putting me through a challenge because it's for my benefit’. You know sometimes a parent gives a child a sweet medicine, sometimes it's a bitter medicine.  But the parent gives the medicine for the benefit of the child. 

For every circumstance in life is there is a reason…and God put it there…and we have to find the reason God gave us that challenge and turn the darkness into light, or the stumbling stone into a stepping stone. 

Bob Jones:  It reminds me to the when you talked about the golden path, that middle way.  That's so accurate and so true. 

Rabbi Scheiner:  Thank you.