A microcosm of the greater world, the Jewish people are polarized, shattered, filled with acrimony and anger. Israel literally surrounded by enemies who seek its annihilation, we stubbornly insist on retaining our championship as our own worst enemies, while the situation in most diaspora communities is just as terrible. Every year about this time we hear and say and read and write all the proper clichés about Sinat Chinam, baseless hatred, as the cause and something called Ahavat Chinam, baseless love, the cure.
This is all very good, but it masks any realistic path for progress behind yet another feel-good slogan. If it were as easy a singing a few choruses of “The More We Get Together” and “Kumbaya” together, the world would have long ago settled into a thriving harmony, our Temple, “a House of God for all nations” would be pouring ever-stronger love and beauty, vitality itself, into our world and no one would be fasting tonight and tomorrow.
Before getting to details, I want to emphasize that while I’m talking about making peace within the Jewish world, that is only a beginning. Nonetheless, we have to start somewhere and it’s always more effective to begin at the center, create a strong foundation and move outward from there. Really, each of us needs to begin with ourselves, refining ourselves and reconciling the seeming opposites within our own nature. Then we work outward to include our family and close friends, our community, our nation, our people, all of humanity and all of creation. And no, we don’t expect perfection at each intermediary stage before progressing to work on the next–many of our efforts need to be repeated over a lifetime and beyond, but we do need to always consolidate our gains and growth within each circle before moving to improve the next outward ones. And we need to look and move both forwards and backwards, inwards and outwards, simultaneously, somehow avoiding complaisance while not foolishly (and often narcissistically, thinking we’re already greater than we really are) over-extending ourselves into a crash-and-burn disaster. We need to make peace at home before we have the slightest chance to achieve peace in any larger realm, no matter how frustrating and humbling that little fact is.
So, within our first circle, we need to seek out the person we most disagree with, who angers us more than any other, whom we genuinely hate. We need to approach that person, not with the goal of vanquishing them, convincing them, defeating them, straightening them out, making them see the light or any of the other phrases we use to mask our own aggression and egos. No, we need to seek them out in order to find the shared core between them and ourselves, even if it’s so tiny and buried that all that remains is the basic fact that we’re both Jews (and, when we have developed the skill to work in larger circles, that we are both human, that we are both fellow creatures in this complex environment known as Earth, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves!). And we need to expect that we might be repelled, with anger and resentment, and quite possibly more than once. Nonetheless, unpleasant and unrewarding as it is so far, we still need to persist.
Once we succeed in creating an opportunity to actually talk, we need to leave our personal agenda, beyond rebuilding the bridge, at home. We’re not interested in changing their opinions, convincing them of anything except our genuine, and it must be genuine within us, desire to end the feud. It’s not easy, but it is necessary to say the simple, yet difficult words, “I apologize for everything I’ve ever said and done to hurt or insult you,” and we especially need to leave out the word, “but….”. And no, this isn’t easy and it can be painful. Even if we’re convinced our position is/was “right”, that’s irrelevant right now when our goal is to merely create a relationship where dialogue will be possible in the future. Eating crow, as the cliché goes, can be excrutiating.
I’m not bragging or trying to present myself as some sort of tzaddik, righteous person, because I’m not. But I have followed this procedure more than once and I can say that it can work. Once in a while, if we’re lucky, our former rival really can turn into a close, beloved friend. Once in a while, again if we’re lucky and persistent, the best we can do is disarm the rivalry and create a neutral indifference (“you go your way, I’ll go mine, but in peace”). At the very least, we can put out into the universe our efforts and will and kavana, inner spiritual intention, to make things better and that is also a powerful, even if not particularly satisfying, contribution.
We probably won’t inspire a mass sing-a-long, but step-by-step, the only way we really can function, we can improve the world and that’s really what it’s all about. And if enough of us do it often enough, perhaps this will be the final Tisha B’Av (ninth day of the Hebrew month Av, the universal day of Jewish mourning over the destruction of our holy Temples, our exiles and all the other disasters we’ve endured) we’ll be required to fast and mourn, having finished our authentic tikkun olam, repair.