Right and left wing activists clash R 311.
(photo credit: Reuters)
The High Holy Days have passed, and Succot has arrived. Jews all over the world
are spending more time than usual in synagogues and temples while also expending
significant energy on introspection and self-improvement. When we deal with the
issue of trying to be better people, we tend to focus on actions we can take to
improve ourselves. We decide to give more charity, to pray more often, to visit
the sick more regularly, etc. I would like to suggest that there is something
much more fundamental which all of us must seek to address during these
meaningful days, despite its great difficulty.
The time has come for all
of us to work on the most basic of Jewish commandments: loving other Jews. Of
course, we have a responsibility to love all of God’s creations, Jew or non-Jew.
However, before we aim for loving all of mankind, we should work on loving those
closest to us.
Maimonides teaches, “It is incumbent upon all Jews to love
every other Jew as he loves his own body... therefore, one must speak the
praises of fellow Jews” and care for them the way we care for ourselves. Hillel
taught that the entire Torah merely helps us fulfill this concept and Rabbi
Akiva called it “a great rule in the Torah.”
A quick glance at a prayer
book may reveal a short prayer in the front, preceding all others, stating: “I
accept upon myself the commandment of loving your neighbor as yourself and I do
love each and every one of the children Israel as my own soul and person, and I
hence invite my mouth to praise the King of Kings, the Holy One Blessed Be
The very fact that we feel the need to reaffirm this love before
engaging in prayer demonstrates the supremacy of this value in Jewish
A STUDENT once asked the Rebbe of Nikolsburg how he could
possibly love others as much as he loved himself.
After all, the student
explained, other people often upset him and he could not control the ensuing
feelings of anger and resentment. The rabbi asked the student if he ever hurt
himself accidentally. When the student answered in the affirmative, the rabbi
asked him if he reacted by hitting his hand or whatever part of his body caused
the harm. The student responded that of course he would never punish another
part of his own body and cause himself even more pain. That, explained the
rabbi, is how we are supposed to view fellow Jews. We are all one unit and parts
of one body.
Getting angry at another Jew only generates more pain for
us, all the more so if we cause actual harm to each other.
I believe that
the lack of love among Jews is the greatest problem facing the State of Israel
today and creates the greatest challenge for its leadership. We live in a
country where everyone is so passionate about political and religious ideologies
that we forget that we are part of the same family. Hatred among different group
of Jews has run so deep that many on both sides of the spectrum have no problem
articulating that they hope the members of certain political or religious (or
non-religious) groups would simply disappear! How can we ever achieve peace with
or victory over our external enemies if we still view fellow Jews as our enemies
from within? The introductory prayers we recited on Kol Nidre night must remain
in our ears and should serve to jolt us back to reality on a regular basis. Jews
from every stripe and walk of life declared that “we permit ourselves to pray
with the sinners.” To some, the “sinners” refers to the secular. For others, to
Some define “sinners” as the hilltop youth. Others,
as members of Peace Now. The list goes on and on. But in order to be successful
in our Yom Kippur service the wise authors of our liturgy knew that we must put
all those differences of opinion aside and at least allow the “sinners” through
the door to join us for prayers.
DISAGREEMENTS ARE OK. In fact, the
passions and deeply held opinions which fuel our national debates are largely
responsible for our survival and success as a people. But something else has
also led to our great success and supernatural survival.
Through all we
have been through over the past 2,000 years, our persecutors have never
distinguished between different types of Jews. No Nazi ever said, “he’s not
religious, let’s leave him alone.” No Crusader ever thought, “he looks like the
religious type, we only want the more secular.” None of our current enemies aim
missiles specifically at right- or left-wingers. Those who hate us remind us
that we are one people and one family and that love, as heavily covered and
professionally camouflaged as it may be, is the reason we’re still here despite
all we have been through as a nation.
Succot provides us with the
opportunity to remind ourselves of this concept in a very tangible way.
Tradition teaches that the four species – the etrog, the date palm, the myrtle
and willow branches – represent four types of Jews with different levels of
We take these four species together as one unit in
the service of God, thereby reminding us that regardless of our personal and
private level of observance, we must act as one nation and focus on that which
unites us instead of that which divides us.
As we try to put the
introspection and self-improvement of Yom Kippur 5772 into practice during the
festive days of Succot, I would like to suggest that we put aside the loud and
externally obvious changes which so often mark our desire to be better people
and focus instead on the most basic transformation – loving one another. The
debates regarding peace with the Palestinians and religion and state will no
doubt continue to rage for decades to come. Let’s make sure that along the way,
we maintain some perspective by viewing each other as family and, at the very
least, letting the “sinners” through the door.The author is a Knesset member and the founder of the Am Shalem movement.