The recent hate crimes perpetrated by Israeli Jews against Jews and Arabs have opened a bleeding wound in Israeli society. It is not the first time that Israelis have carried out such crimes against Jews or Arabs. In 1983, peace activist Emil Grunzweig was murdered when a hand grenade was thrown into a peace rally he took part in, in Jerusalem. And we all remember the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Rabin, by the Israeli ultranationalist Yigal Amir.
And yet, somehow the recent murders seem more sinister and more indicative of our state as a society. Some say that we shouldn’t judge ourselves so harshly because Arabs and other nations behave far worse than we do. Indeed, if you consider the way Syrians, Iraqis, Egyptians, and people of other Arab countries treat one another – shooting, burning, and gassing one another to death, you could say they have a point. If you also consider the fact that Hamas, the official ruler of the Gaza Strip, has sworn to annihilate Israel and is still doing what it can to make good on its promise, you might think that we are really not the bad bullies in the neighborhood.
However, competing for being the least of the evildoers is exactly the type of contest we do not want to join. It is with good reason that we are conducting such profound soul-searching after these heinous acts of hatred. Being as bad as everyone else in the neighborhood neither justifies such acts nor strengthens us.
There is a good reason why we and the world demand of ourselves more than we demand of other nations. The world has made the Jews the carriers of the gospel of peace and love. We have committed to be the light of the nations when we became a nation at the foot of Mt. Sinai, and the gospel that we have taken upon ourselves to spread is “Love your neighbor as yourself.” It makes no difference that we have not been able to carry it out for the past two millennia, or that the Temple was ruined because of our hatred for each other. Christianity, and to a great extent, Islam as well, have adopted this motto as their prime value, yet have failed to realize it. Now they judge us harshly because subconsciously they expect us to pave the way, to show them how to realize this motto. Subconsciously, and sometimes consciously, we expect this of ourselves, as well.
But instead of “Love your neighbor” and mutual responsibility, we fall prey to values dominating our surroundings. Homophobia, xenophobia, and other forms of racism mar the camaraderie we strive to establish among us. It is time to rethink our values.
Our biggest, and perhaps only, enemy is our own fragmentation. We need not all be the same; our strength is precisely in our diversity, provided we unite above it. When we achieve this, we become a role model of unity above differences. This is how we show that the more different we are, the more unique the contribution of each person and faction in society is.
Think of the diversity in American society. If Americans could truly unite above their growing fragmentation, abolishing divides between Blacks, Hispanics, Whites, and immigrants who have long been awaiting their permits, they would become a shining example of peace and harmony. But as the author of the Sulam (Ladder) commentary on The Book of Zohar, Rav Yehuda Ashlag, explains in his introduction to that commentary (items 66-71), the nations will not be able to do it unless we Jews first do it among ourselves, and thereby pave the way for the rest of the world. And as I said to Professor Charles Asher Small in a fascinating meeting we had had a few months ago, because others will not be able to achieve it unless we do it first, they will blame us for fragmenting their society, and for inciting war between America and other countries, if they haven’t already started.
The whole world knows that unity is a guarantee for strength, but to the Jews unity is the very essence of the nation, the trait that defined us as a nation. Unity will not only make us victorious, it will prevent war altogether – if we unite in order to share our unity with the world. If we ever want to find an antidote to anti-Semitism, here is where we should seek it. And if we want nations’ genuine esteem, here’s where we should look – in living out the aphorism that our ancient nation has coined, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
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