(I’ve been trying to express and share my thoughts as they’ve developed over the last several, relatively quiet, months. In order to finally share something before Shabbat, I ask you to please forgive and overlook spelling and grammatical errors, but to the time pressure. Humbly, with thanks–RHL)
I doubt that we’ve ever been more divided as a people, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The more of the entire spectrum we cover, potentially the more of full reality we can bring under the umbrella of Kedusha, of Holiness, Tachat Kanfei HaShechina beneath the wings of the Shechina, the Holy Divine Presence.
At the very minimum, and most obvious, is the gap between what those of us who have taken the opportunity to live with what is soon to be an absolute majority of our people, no longer under foreign and hostile sovereignty, whether we personally describe ourselves as “religious” or “secular”, “Ashkenazi” of “Sephardi”, “right” or “left”, and our brothers and sisters, even (especially the ultra-orthodox?) anywhere else (even in such orthodox strongholds as Lakewood, New Jersey, or Stamford Hill).
Those who remain in the Diaspora have a single duty, the one they’ve served, for better or worse, throughout the world, for the last two thousand years. That is to survive, too often within a murderously inhospitable environment. That is first, to remain alive, and second, to preserve an at least recognizable Judaism and Torah culture against all odds. As a people, we’ve succeeded beyond all possible expectations, and regardless of distortions and unhealthy trends, between the assimilation-seeking and the backwards-looking approaches, we still have our unique identity (often enforced from the outside, but still keeping us together), a continuous study of Torah and of Jewish ethics and morality, our stiff-necked personalities, our heart-tearing music, heart-soaring poetry, our unique intellectual bent (which extends beyond those who maintain talmudic analytical methods to our greater Jewish culture). Two thousand years in Germany and Poland and Iraq and Egypt, in Russia and Italy and Libya and the US, never anywhere for more than just a few generations before driven elsewhere, we’ve made it from the year 70, and the Great Destruction of Jerusalem and our Holy Temple and our exile throughout the earth, to now, when many of the Jewish People are returning home to our land, The Land Of Israel.
Without minimizing the danger of a hundred year war against any Jewish presence at all in the Holy Land, or the constant threat of annihilation (now with Iran collecting a mass of nuclear-bomb-grade uranium), the hostility and diplomatic betrayal of former allies, we have survived. We have achieved that millennia-long task. Our job now, and this has always been part of our mandate, at least when we could afford to focus on it, is to increase awareness of God, of the Infinite, in this limited physical world. We are in a time when it’s not merely possible, not merely permitted, but mandated to celebrate that God has created 600,000 root-souls (corresponding to the 600,000 letters in an ideal Torah scroll) of Jews. That we no longer need force ourselves into the strict conformity, comforting and fortifying for some, brain/soul-deadening for others, that was enforced both from without and from within these past two millennia. We’re invited/mandated to explore and live the infiniteness of The Infinite One, and to see, at the end of the day, that Infinity is contained in The One.
Each of us, growing into this responsibility at our own paces, must manifest ourselves and, at the same time, accept and celebrate our fellow Jews as they, at their own paces, manifest themselves.
We’re pushed into such extremism in Israel today. Perhaps it’s a necessary, but painful full step, part of the process of differentiating, to see our differences with others, but in the true love of Ahavat Yisrael, mutually loving and supporting and understanding that each of us is but a small part of a whole which is greater than any of us.
It all seems so urgent right now, but I’m sure that if we each step back and look more historically at the challenges we’ve faced to get to where we are today, we can confidently embrace the challenge of Kol Yisrael Eruvim Zeh b’Zeh, All of Israel is intertwined, one with the other.
Of course, there a commonality among all humanity, but let’s give ourselves the opportunity to face one challenge at a time, confident that we’ll get there, too. But, for now, if all of us, Am Yisrael, The Jewish Nation, can accept and support each other in love, we’ll deserve a lot of credit.