The Internet is flooded these days with calls for unity. We feel the need for unity intuitively. We know how much we need to strengthen the spirit and join together to help our soldiers on the battlefield. We grew up on the Sages’s statement that the Second Mikdash was destroyed because of baseless hatred. The sight of the burned settlements, alongside our finest sons and daughters brutally murdered or taken into captivity, resonates in our minds with the stories of the destruction.
I confess that I never fully understood the connection between baseless hatred and the destruction we suffered. It seemed to me too great a punishment in relation to the gravity of the sin. True, the Sages tell us that the destruction occurred for this reason, but in my naivety, I imagined this was their way of urging us to repent.
But perhaps punishment is not a matter of retribution but primarily an invitation to learn
This year, the terrible hardships caused me to rethink. Perhaps my lack of understanding was due to thinking about punishment as retribution: you caused suffering, and you, too, will now suffer, and the Divine equilibrium will be restored. We do what is bad in Hashem’s eyes, and our punishment mends the imbalance. But perhaps punishment is not a matter of retribution but primarily an invitation to learn.
Just a moment ago, the Jews of Israel were on the brink of civil war over matters of the court, religion, and gender-separate prayers, and here we are, all of us, united in a plea for the lives of our hostages and soldiers. A moment ago, we were still claiming that “you are not my brother,” and suddenly, we’re one family, a single brotherhood of the Jewish People. A moment ago, we brought our self-critique all the way to the United Nations, and today, we are proudly united as capital cities around the world illuminate their national sites with the Israeli flag.
A moment ago, we were still claiming that “you are not my brother,” and suddenly, we’re one family, a single brotherhood of the Jewish People
Baseless hatred is a luxury only the privileged can afford. Yesterday, we were privileged. We claimed the right to be so finely opinionated that anyone who differs became a hated enemy. Today, we found out what true enemies look like. Yesterday, we planned autonomies for Jews of different persuasions. Today, our common enemy reminds us just how immaterial these distinctions are (like a divorcing couple that can’t remember why they’re separating).
Our common enemy has pulled the carpet from under our feet, undermined our most basic foundations, shattered our personal security – and saved us from ourselves. Only now do we realize what a privileged life we lived – a life we took for granted and assumed as obvious. It isn’t. It’s a gift. In fact, many gifts.
- A brother is a gift because you can trust him in times of need, even if he doesn’t share your exact ideology or davens with a different Rebbe – even if he doesn’t pray at all.
- Having a God to pray to is a gift, whatever the synagogue, even if it’s just under the heavens, whatever the mechitza looks like.
- The Land of Israel and the State of Israel are gifts. For a brief moment, they were taken captive by the rapacity and evil of our neighboring Arabs. We need to fight, united, to hold on to them.
- Our soldiers are gifts. Jewish, Israeli soldiers. The most reassuring thing in the world is hearing a Jewish soldier outside the door of the shelter – whichever political party he might vote for.
- Family and friends are gifts. Their preservation and cultivation require investment, especially when the going gets tough. Nothing in the world is worth breaking the ties of family and friendship.
We need to tell Hashem that we have learned the lesson, that we won’t go back to how things were, and won’t forget the gifts of life even when all is good. Hashem, there is no need to take away the basic gifts of life so that we will appreciate them!
We need to tell Hashem that we have learned the lesson, that we won’t go back to how things were, and won’t forget the gifts of life even when all is good
We will conduct our arguments and disputes with mutual respect, addressing their substance rather than attacking their carriers. Of course, we have our differences, but they will never cause us to break apart our family and national cohesion. If we only demonstrate that we’ve internalized the message, we will be able to minimize the tuition fees we’re being made to pay.
Let us unite in doing the good and contributing all we can to the collective efforts of war. And let us pray for the safe and sound return of our beloved soldiers, for the speedy return of the abducted, for the full and complete healing of the wounded in body and spirit, and for the elevation of the souls of the fallen, kedoshim who were killed for a single reason: because they were Jews, just like us.