This Wednesday, July 29, will be the 9th of the Hebrew month of Av, when the Temple was destroyed and the Jews were exiled from their land. Although historians attribute the exile to the commander of the Roman army Titus, Jewish sources pin the ruin and the exile on “sina’at hinam” (unfounded/baseless hatred), the hatred of the Jews for one another.
The Jewish people gained their nationhood when they united “as one man with one heart” at the foot of Mount Sinai. When they united and became a nation, they were also tasked with being “a light unto nations,” namely to make their unity an example to the rest of the nations, so they, too, would be able to unite.
The demand that Jews would be role models of unity has since become the kernel of all Jewish hatred, both emanating from other nations, as well as from Jews who resented the idea of unity and wanted to pursue individualistic (later to become Hellenistic) agendas.
Two thousand years ago, the hatred within the Jewish people became so fierce that they locked themselves inside their capital, Jerusalem – with the Roman legion camped outside the walls – slaughtered one another, burned each other’s food reservoirs, and made Titus’ work much easier when he finally decided to conquer the city and destroy the Temple.
The day when the Romans marched into the Temple and sealed the Jewish defeat was to become a day of mourning. But we should not mourn the destruction of the walls or the breaking of the altar. We should instead mourn the ruin of our unity, our brotherly love, the abandonment of our task to unite as one man with one heart, and be a role model for the nations.
When Hitler explained in Mein Kampf why he hates Jews, he expounded on his disgust with their dislike for one another. “The Jew is only united when a common danger forces him to be or a common booty entices him; if these two grounds are lacking, the qualities of the crassest egoism come into their own,” he wrote.
Numerous other antisemites wrote and spoke similarly about the Jewish people. They would not dedicate such attention to Jewish hatred of each other if they did not expect Jews to feel otherwise toward their brethren.
These days, once again, division and internal hatred are rampant, both in Israel and outside of it. Jewish anti-Jewish groups and individuals once again decry with righteous indignation that only their way and views are right, that Jews with other views are ignorant and inferior. They do not realize that winning the nations’ hearts, for which they so desperately yearn, depends not on their ideology, but on their unity precisely with those brethren they hate.
From the perspective of the world, nothing has changed. We are still tasked with being a light unto nations by setting an example of unity, and we are still hated for showing the opposite. Vasily Shulgin, a senior member of the Russian Parliament before the 1917 revolution and an avid self-proclaimed anti-semite wrote in his book What We Don’t Like about Them: “Jews in the 20th century have become very smart, effective, and vigorous at exploiting other people’s ideas. However,” he protested, “this is not an occupation for teachers and prophets, not the role of guides of the blind, not the role of carriers of the lame.”
Deep inside, every Jew feels indebted to the world. Deep inside, we feel the call of our vocation. But we will never live up to our task by hating one another. We will do so only if we show the world that above our fierce disagreements, we love each other like family. Although we cannot agree on anything, we form a union that is stronger than any dispute.
The divisions between us are the vehicle through which we can show the world what unity means, but only if we rise to the challenge and unite above them. If we do so, the world will see that unity is possible however deep the chasm between people and nations. If we keep avoiding unity, the world will keep blaming us for spreading division and will make us pay for its suffering.