To make peace (shalom) means to make whole (shalem), when opposites unite and create something that is neither, yet consists of both.
Smashed windows and “Impeach!” “Putin’s B–ch!” “Not My President!” signs were frequent vistas at the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. and New York. Celebrities ranted abusively and confessed on stage to having fantasies of blowing up the White House (after the new president settles in), and a world leading news network mused on a “tragic scenario” where the president-elect is murdered and the Democratic Party therefore remains in power. All these and more were the liberals’ “welcoming festivities” for the incoming administration. If Hillary had won the election, would Republicans have acted the same? And if there were incidents of a similar nature, had the outcome of the elections been different, would democrats and liberals regard them as legitimate?
President Trump, as one would expect, delivered an aptly combative inauguration speech, followed by an even more belligerent statement delivered by Sean Spicer, the new administration Press Secretary.
Clearly, America is divided.
From Liberalism to Narcissism to Fascism
Author and journalist, Nicholas Kristof, is the winner of two Pulitzer Prizes. He is also a regular CNN contributor, and has written an op-ed column for The New York Times since November 2001. By his own admission, he is a liberal progressive writer. On May 7, 2016, Kristof wrote a column he titled, “A Confession of Liberal Intolerance,” where he bemoaned the bigotry of his progressive cohorts. “Universities are the bedrock of progressive values,” wrote Kristof, “but the one kind of diversity that universities disregard is ideological and religious. We’re fine with people who don’t look like us, as long as they think like us.” At the end of a long and detailed description of the bias against conservatives in academia, Kristof concludes that perhaps “we progressives could take a brief break from attacking the other side and more broadly incorporate values that we supposedly cherish—like diversity—in our own dominions.”
Eight months after the writing of the column, in January 2017, we see that this did not happen. Progressives have regressed even further, much further. They delegitimize, demonize, and patronize anyone whose view differs from theirs. These self-appointed champions of democracy suppress pluralism, freedom of thought, and freedom of speech. And they do all this in the name of liberalism, while basking in self-righteousness.
But the liberals are not the sole proprietors of bigotry. Bias and narrow-mindedness exist on both sides of the political map. In a generation of unadulterated self-entitlement, many people have digressed from believing that every view is legitimate as long as we do not harm one another, through believing that only my view is legitimate, to believing that only my view is legitimate and anyone who disagrees should not exist or at least should have no say in anything that concerns my life.
We should learn from this. It is a sad and glaring evidence that any ideology—however enlightened it may seem at first, is bound to become fascistic and totalitarian unless it makes human connection its top priority. And since today we are far more self-centered than in previous generations, our pluralistic, liberal, and democratic ideologies become authoritarian and fascistic much faster than before.
I have no doubt that should the new administration implement a strict conservative agenda, it will not last long. In the previous century, we have seen nations lean to the extreme left and the extreme right. But in all of these cases, governance collapsed, the people rebelled, carnage ensued, and everyone suffered. If we repeat this cycle in the 21st century, high-tech warfare and weapons of mass destruction will make last century’s atrocities look like a walk in the park. We need to look at political views from a different perspective.
End the “King of the Hill” Strategy
The Talmud tells us (Shabbat 156a) to turn one who is born with affinity for blood into a butcher or a surgeon, or he will turn into a murderer. We are all different, but instead of celebrating our differences and welcoming the constructive contributions of our unique perspectives, we try to eliminate others’ views and position ourselves as the sole owners of the truth. In doing so, we sentence ourselves to stagnation and regression, and induce our own decline through the rebellion of those whose views we have oppressed while in power.
This “King of the Hill” attitude that humanity has been cultivating since the dawn of history has exhausted itself. We have ruined our habitat, Planet Earth, and we have ruined our society. Everything we do, no matter how noble we intend for it to be, becomes corrupt and evil, a reflection of our attitude toward each other. In the thirty years since the initial commercialization of the internet, we have turned the promise of connecting the world’s people to each other into a reality of online shaming, bullying, misinformation and falsehood. Nothing reflects our mistreatment of each other better than the internet. But we can change course.
In all of nature, differences create harmony and balance rather than disorder. The diversity of species ensures the stability of ecosystems, and the diversity of organ functionality in our body ensures our health. For example, the liver, heart, and kidneys work very differently, and all require blood. If we did not know that these organs complement each other to maintain our health, we might think that they are vying for the same resource. Yet, without each of them we would die.
Just like our bodies, “humanity” is not a generic name for “many people”; it denotes an entity of which we are all parts. If we keep viewing ourselves as separate beings then we will have to fight for our survival or shut ourselves off through drugs or other substances and wait for this nuisance called “life” to pass. Alternatively, if we rise above our petty selves just for a moment, we will discover a very different reality—where we are connected and mutually supportive.
The book Likutey Halachot (Assorted Rules) writes, “The essence of vitality, existence, and correction in creation is achieved by people of differing opinions mingling together in love, unity, and peace.” When our ancient sages spoke of peace, they did not refer to absence of war. To avoid war, we can simply avoid contact. The word shalom (peace) comes from the Hebrew word shlemut (wholeness). To make peace means to make whole. It is to take two opposites and unite them in such a way that they make a new whole. It is an entity that is neither, yet is the offspring of both, a creation that could not have been made without both and which they each loves dearly. Just like a man and woman together create a child who is neither the mother nor the father, but who is the beloved creation of both, peace is the resulting wholeness that two opposite, conflicting views create.
This is why the Talmud warns us that every tendency, even one that seems murderous, can be turned to good, if we use it properly, to create a higher entity by fusing it with other qualities. In his essay, “The Freedom,” Baal HaSulam writes that “when humankind achieves its goal of complete love of others, all the bodies in the world will unite into a single body and a single heart. However, against that, we must be watchful not to bring the views of people so close that disagreement and criticism might be terminated, for love naturally brings with it proximity of views. And should criticism and disagreement vanish, all progress in concepts and ideas will cease, and the source of knowledge in the world will dry out.”
“This,” continues Baal HaSulam, “is the proof of the obligation to caution with the freedom of the individual regarding concepts and ideas. For the whole development of the wisdom and knowledge is based on that freedom of the individual. Thus, we are cautioned to preserve it very carefully.” When liberals feel entitled to ostracize other views, they are no longer liberals; they have become tyrants destroying our society. I pray that the new era now beginning will not be dragged into the same trap by the lure of power.
The Secret of Jewish Wisdom
By any measurement, Jews on average excel academically. Regrettably, for the most part, we use our prowess for the wrong purposes—to gain wealth and power. But the root of our wisdom does not lie in our genes; it is a remnant of the wisdom we developed and cultivated for centuries while we were sovereigns in the land of Israel— the wisdom of how to connect conflicting views and create a new entity called “peace” by uniting those conflicting views.
Philosopher and historian, Nicholai Berdysev, wrote in The Meaning of History: “The survival of the Jews, their resistance to destruction, their endurance under absolutely peculiar conditions and the fateful role played by them in history; all these point to the particular and mysterious foundations of their destiny.” Likewise, author Mark Twain, in his essay, “Concerning the Jews,” wondered about their survival: “The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?”
The secret is the seed of unity above differences that lies dormant within us, that “essence of peace” I cited earlier.
We Jews were granted peoplehood only when we pledged to unite “as one man with one heart.” Once we committed to doing so, we were declared a nation and were tasked with being “a light unto nations.” That is, we were instructed to demonstrate how to use our differences to create a higher entity, a new shlemut (peace), instead of fighting one another for power. So far, we haven’t done that. We ourselves have fallen into bigotry and division, and we offer no way out of the hatred and extremism intensifying the world over. It is no wonder that the world hates us; we are not doing what we are supposed to do.
The Jews who promote liberalism today, do not do so as a means to create unity above differences. They only entrench separation of minds and hearts. By doing so, they deny the world the only way to peace. Consequently, humanity—which subconsciously feels that we are denying it the key to mitigating hatred—is blaming us for all the wars in the world.
Now that Trump is in power, we must take advantage of the hiatus we have been given and try to unite above our differences. Instead of cherishing liberalism, let’s cherish pluralism of views that serve as a basis for a higher unity. As I quoted above, we must keep our differences and build our unity above them.
It is an educational process that we all need to undergo together. Jewish education at its heart is not about making people smarter; it is about teaching people the motto: “love your neighbor as yourself.” This is the entire Jewish law. If we keep this one rule, we are Jews. If we do not, we are anything but Jews and the world feels that we have no claim on the land of Israel, and no right to exist in the world.
America is divided, and the key to healing the division lies with us. Now is our chance to make a difference. However, we must hurry, before the tide turns against us once again.
Featured in Haaretz