Wednesday, April 25, 2012

We Are One

Jews have never found it easy to accept each other. Whether Ashkenaz or Sephard, religious or secular, liberal or conservative, Jews of all stripes have had a difficult time tolerating those with whom they differ. Of course, this isn't unique to Jews. Human nature compels members of any group to focus on all the differences that exist between one another. Nevertheless, a Jew is a Jew - regardless of the additional descriptive words. Although it sounds oxymoronic, the Jewish people are not a monolithic group and yet we are one. Go figure.

Given all the denominations of Judaism, political ideologies and ways of life that have developed over the years, intra-Jewish divisiveness has become rather easy. It's common for some Jews to engage in hateful depictions of Jewish groups with which they disagree: Reform and Conservative Jews against Orthodox Jews, Orthodox Jews against those who are more theologically liberal, Jews from certain countries against those of others, and so on. Obviously, there are substantive disagreements among the Jewish population, but those arguments must be disciplined and not turn into personal attacks.

There is an even greater degree of difficulty to control intra-Jewish divisiveness in Israel, where the differences are more striking and the problem is exacerbated. As Israel enters its 64th year of modern existence, one might think that the current condition of the country is drastically different from the Holy Land of long ago. However, not much has changed. As Herman Wouk eloquently points out in This Is My God (first edition (1959), page 263):

"A wholly religious state in ancient Israel did not exist. There were religious kings and irreligious kings; generals hostile to the faithful and generals kind to them; a part of the populace that held to the Mosaic law and a part that did not. . . . Visitors to Israel who profess deep shock because they see people smoking on the Sabbath have not been reading their Bible or their Jewish history. Israel is the place where, as we believe, the light of the Lord will someday blaze forth to fill not only the little land but the whole earth. It does not offer itself, at least in Jewish thought, as the place where the event has already occurred."

But just as the religious must be understanding of their non-observant brothers and sisters, the secular must also recognize that if not for our religious roots, there would be no Israel (or Jewish people, for that matter). Whether in Israel or the Diaspora, living among fellow Jews with whom we disagree may be among the most difficult tasks in life. Perhaps it will help to know that all of those seemingly irreconcilable differences are there for a reason.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch provides an important explanation of the verse "And God saw all that He had made, and behold it was very good" (Genesis 1:31). Even parts of existence that appear to be bad are only viewed as such in isolation. In the grand scheme of things, not only are those parts good - they can even be very good. If we could only appreciate God's mastery of events, we would agree. This same principle can be applied to the Jewish people. Despite the fact that we may view certain Jews as either beneficial or detrimental to our people as a whole, they each play an important role in the total context of our existence.

As the adage goes, "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts." If we divide ourselves into different pieces, we aren't all that great. After all, every individual Jew - as well as every Jewish group - has strengths and weaknesses. However, when we put all the different pieces together, the result is quite impressive. There is an extraordinary synergy among the Jewish people, if we could just look beyond the separate fragments. In Judaism, oneness is a common theme: one God, one Land, one Torah, one People. Although there are legitimate disagreements over how we understand God, govern the Land, interpret the Torah, and view ourselves as a People, in the end, we are one.

Friday, April 6, 2012