Push away evil

Rabbi Mendy Cohen preaches that individual good deeds assist the troops

Rabbi Mendy Cohen is the director of Chabad of Sacramento, an organization affiliated with the Chabad-Lubavitch movement and dedicated to promoting Jewish tradition.

What are you saying to your congregation when you discuss the war in Iraq?

When you’re a rabbi, you try not to get involved in politics, because when you do, you’re bound to get somebody upset.

We just pray, every Saturday, for the success of our military, and for the health of our troops. We have children of [members of] our synagogue that are in Iraq, so it’s very close to everyone’s heart. So we really wish the troops quick success. Whether it’s a good thing to go or stay, I’m not going to get involved in that. … I’m supposed to bring the people God’s word. My job is not to make political decisions. My job is to serve God. We’re in a very dark time. The whole world is held hostage by these crazy people in the Middle East, the fundamentalists. I’m not talking—the Muslims are very good people. My neighbors, some are Muslims and they’re very kind to me; they’re good people. But some of the fundamentalists, the whole world is held hostage by them, and by oil. It’s a very tough time for the world.

But we’ve got to do acts of goodness and kindness to push away evil. Smile at your neighbor, care about someone else.

Does Judaism have an “end times” prophecy like the New Testament—Armageddon?

We do have that. The Messiah is a Jewish concept. It says in the Talmud, when you see many nations fighting against each other, it’s a sign of Messiah’s coming. I believe, very strongly, that the footsteps of Messiah are coming closer to bring salvation to the world.

The Christian concept is something worse—they think the end is coming.

It’s not the end; it’s the beginning of a very good time. The world will change for the better and Messiah will usher us into this wonderful era, which will be good for everybody. We’ve got to stand strong in these last moments of darkness. It says the darkest time of the night is right before dawn breaks. And it’s chaos again in the world—the world is shaky. But … every act, Maimonides writes—he was a great Jewish thinker—goes on the scale of good and evil. Your little act could tip the scale for good or for the opposite. So our deeds are going to help this war. Help each other out. Help the military. Help your neighbor. The time is coming; it’s very, very soon. Messiah is coming, so therefore I’m not terribly depressed. I’m optimistic; I know that good things are about to happen.

Acts of goodness and kindness—how do we square that with the basic ugliness of having to fight a war?

That’s the idea. When you’re fighting the war—outside the politics of it—you’re doing a great kindness. To put your life on the line to fight a war to protect your brothers and sisters in America, or in Israel, is the greatest act of selflessness. It is an act of goodness and kindness. I salute every uniformed soldier I see. They are the greatest people.

The main thing is to tell the world that every good deed and every prayer here will help our troops and will help the goodness to prevail once and for all with the coming of Messiah. And very good times are ahead. This is my message to the world.