Turn away from evil, do good, seek peace and pursue it. ס֣וּר מֵ֭רָע וַעֲשֵׂה־ט֑וֹב בַּקֵּ֖שׁ שָׁל֣וֹם וְרָדְפֵֽהוּ׃
I always understood the verse from Psalms in a simple way: remove yourself from bad behaviors, busy yourself with good ones, seek peace, and pursue it. It seems pretty straight forward.
Recently, under the guise of our Tikun branch, we have been working to expose a leader who has a troubling past. His behavior is not illegal, so we can’t involve the police, but it is not befitting of a teacher of Torah.
I thought about how the people who aid and abet those who do heinous things, and justify their support because those people also do good things, have totally missed the mark on what it means to be a Jew. I thought of the excuses people make for not going after scoundrels: they’re afraid of upsetting peace and they’re afraid of gossip. They’d rather sit back and try not to think too much about the troubling actions of people they associate with and instead focus on the good.
As I was thinking about this hypocrisy, I revisited this verse. What if it doesn’t only mean “remove yourself from bad behavior,” what if it also means “remove bad behavior from the world” – and do this BEFORE you concern yourself with good. If we do not attempt to eradicate evil in our midst, what value do our good deeds have?
But wait – there’s more. This verse is proceeded by a famous verse that warns against gossip׃ “Guard your tongue from evil, your lips from deceitful speech.” The verse is then followed by a message of peace – “seek peace and pursue it.”
And so what these verses may be trying to tell us is that you can be a person who cares not to gossip, cares to pursue peace and despite all that evil must still be eradicated. We are a small organization trying to root out bad actors in our community, but we cannot act alone. We implore you, our dear community, to also be the ones who stand up, speak out and remove bad actors from your spheres either through law enforcement, if something is illegal, or exposing troubling behaviors if someone’s actions do not befit Torah leaders.
While living with type of conviction to stand up for what’s right might feel uncomfortable or stressful, the Torah frames this whole section with an important message that proceeds all of these verses and tells us that “the man who is eager for life, who desires years of good fortune” is the one who guards his tongue, eradicates evil, does good, and pursue peace. May we merit to live up to these Torah values and be blessed with the abundance they promise.