The Rabbi and Michael Jackson

michael_jackson_and_president_bush_2_croppedThere is a classic Star Trek episode where a transporter accident splits Captain Kirk into a good Kirk and an evil Kirk. The moral of the story is that the evil Kirk is bad, but the good Kirk is no better.  He is meek, ineffective, helpless. He can’t function as a leader or a human being without his dark half.

Our inner angels versus our inner demons. That’s what struck me about Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s interview with CNN about his friendship with Michael Jackson. Rabbi Boteach’s words were charitable but unsparing. He described Jackson as a brilliant but tortured man.

Look, I am not someone who whitewashes Michael’s sins. Michael was not a saint. He had great virtue and there was a part of him that unfortunately grew corrupt over time.

I am far from being a religious Jew, but I do know that Judaism recognizes that all human beings have an evil inclination- the yetzer hara – which battles the inclination to do good (yetzer tov).  But unlike Christianity, which treats our dark impulses as fundamental flaws to be purged, Judaism recognizes the darkness as a necessary price for being human.  As the sages wrote, “Were it not for the yetzer hara, a man would not build a house, marry, have children, or conduct business.”

But Judaism also holds that while we can’t help being torn between our good and evil sides, we do make a choice in which side we listen to.  As one sage wrote, Man’s inclinations are therefore balanced between good and evil, and he is not compelled toward either of them. He has the power of choice and is able to choose either side knowingly and willingly…”

Therein lies the tragedy of Michael Jackson. There was no shame in his need for fame or love, the eccentricities and the plastic surgery.  But he made choices, whether sharing his bed with children or to take drugs to ease his torment. He should not be remembered as a martyr to the awful price of fame, but perhaps he deserves a bit of sympathy for making poor choices just as we all do.

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