One of the most insidious messages Hollywood has foisted on mankind is that only the bad have fun. In popular culture, people of dubious character always seem to do the interesting things, drive fast cars, and get all the really good lines. Good guys (and girls) are boring, simple, and one-dimensional.
You might be thinking, “Well, that’s what they really are like!" The truth, however, is quite the opposite.
Let me tell you a true story. A friend of mine who is a very sharp cookie had her car towed in Washington, D.C. When she went to collect it, she explained to the attendant how she had parked legally and the police had towed it in error. The attendant understood her argument but told her he couldn’t release the car unless the fine was paid. Once she redeemed her car, he said, she could file an appeal and get her money back.
After reluctantly paying the fine and retrieving her car, she asked for information on the appropriate office of appeals. The attendant gave her the information but added this warning: “You won’t get your money back.”
“Why not?” my friend asked.
“Because the person who runs the office is a miserable person whose only joy in life is the power he wields, and he never gives back the fines. Ever.”
Not being one to just sit by and be party to injustice, my friend was undeterred by this warning.
She called the appeals office and was directed to the alleged Mr. Control Freak. She explained the details of the incident and why she thought she was unjustly fined, and added this line: “I am sure you cannot help me, so could you please direct me to the person who has the power to give me back my money?"
Well, you can imagine the response. “Oh no, I am that person, I can give you back your money,” he responded.
And so he did.
As King Solomon said, bad people have few choices (Proverbs 10:20). Once you understand someone’s base desire (yetzer hara), he really has few to no choices in life. He will do whatever his hunger for power — or his greed, or arrogance, or jealousy, etc. — tells him to do. He becomes one-dimensional in that respect.
This is why it’s the good guys who really have depth and character and life. Bad people are extremely boring. They only think about one thing and are caught in a web of their own desires and insecurities, unable to rise above them.
Youth has nothing to do with the number on your birthday cake. Young people, whatever birthday they are celebrating, know life is full or opportunity. They know good prevails, they know a good deed is a lot better than the alternative. And they believe in people and they believe in the future.
As this week’s parsha (Torah portion) points out, old is not a factor of the years you have lived, it’s a factor of the way you live those years.
Visit an old-age home and you can easily tell the difference between the old and the young. Sometimes the young are wheeling the old, sometimes it’s the other way around. No number is an absolute determination of who is who.
And that is how this week’s Torah portion starts. Sarah died at 127 years young. As Rashi, the pre-eminent Torah commentator, points out: As she was at 7, so at 20 and 100, “all equally good.” All equally young.
You see, as Billy Joel sang, “Only the good die young.”
By Rabbi Stephen Baars
Originally from London, Rabbi Stephen Baars resides in Rockville, Maryland, and serves as executive director of Aish Seminars. An educator and marriage counselor for the past 25 years, Rabbi Baars and his wife, Ruth, are blessed with seven children. Learn more about Rabbi Baars at www.getbliss.com and www.core9.live.