Perplexing Thoughts on Yom HaAtzmaut

As I sit here on Yom HaAtzmaut, I’m filled with anguish over my own inability to overcome שנאת חינם, sinat chinam, baseless hatred of fellow Jews.  There are prominent Jews whose life missions appear to be to attack and weaken the State of Israel, placing thousands, if not more, of my people at deadly risk. I despise what they are doing in governments and news media as well as in NGOs and lobbying groups and it’s difficult for me to not let my hatred for their actions spill over into hating them as well.

Sinat chinam is a more complex issue than first appears. Overcoming it does not, by any means, equate with liking, approving or even tolerating every thought, policy and action I see a Jew advocate.  I am free to hate, denounce, oppose and combat these ideas, just as any fellow Jew is free to do the same to mine. Nonetheless, I need to keep in mind that my rival’s neshama, Jewish soul, is equivalent with mine, is rooted to the same place of holiness and requires, just as does my own, to be unconditionally loved.

A cliché for this issue is “to love the sinner but not the sin”, and while that is fine as far as it goes, I don’t find it at all helpful in refining my own feelings.  It’s a nice idea, but so what?

One of our most powerful, and most over-simplified, tools is תשובה, tshuva, which is usually poorly defined as “repentance” or “return”, as in bringing ourselves “back in line”. However, it’s a much deeper concept and perhaps exploring it will help illuminate a way to retain love and respect for people who stray so far as to endanger us all.

An important insight from our mystical tradition, Kabbalah, informs us that on a deep level, regardless of what we think we’re up to, what we’re really doing is searching for those נצוצות קדשות, netzutzot kadashot, holy sparks (shattered fragments of imperfect reality) that are keyed exclusively to our unique souls, integrating and then, with our Torah, mitzvot and ma’asim tovim (good deeds) actions, returning (tshuva) them to their holy source. (This, by the way, is the Torah definition of תיקון עולם, tikkun olam, repairing the universe, of which social action and protecting the physical environment are at most metaphorically included).

At this point in history, we can assume that most of the “easy-to-access” sparks have long been located and rectified. Many of those that remain are, almost by definition, in distant and often unsavory places.  Nonetheless, they’re part of the required assignment we, as Jews, have as our portion of partnering with God to complete Creation. Also, remember that in the spiritual sense location is not necessarily geographical, but can also be conceptual.

This is pure speculation, but it seems possible to me that those fellow Jews who find themselves advocating for our enemies, unbeknownst to themselves and others, are in a more real sense immersing themselves in this hateful socio-politico environment because that’s where their sparks are. So while it appears on the surface that their efforts are hateful, and in the short term they do appear to expose our people and our nation to mortal danger, in an ultimately more profound way they, like us, are bringing our world closer to the completion we all desire.

Although I’m a smart person and try to act with deliberateness to make things better, I realize that the narrow bandwidth that I’m aware of is an infinitesimal slice of the greater reality of my life. By extending the same awareness to others, especially those whose words and deeds I despise and combat, perhaps I can imagine that even without their awareness they are retrieving and restoring their unique “puzzle pieces” and, thus, escape my own descent into sinat chinam.

I’m not saying it’s easy and I’m not even positive that I’m right, but it seems worth every effort to embrace the entire Jewish people in love.

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10 Responses to Perplexing Thoughts on Yom HaAtzmaut

  1. As always I appreciate your honest assessments and thought provoking writing. As far as your speculation, I would have to give it more thought but even if you are not right as you say, it is still worth every effort to embrace the entire Jewish people in love. I also find it difficult at times to not let my hatred for people’s actions affect how I feel about them as souls. I think what is more helpful more to me though, than trying to see their actions in some kind of positive light despite the obvious negatives, is to redefine love and hatred. Hating the action and loving the person is not easy but I think if we take love out of the realm of emotion and put in more in the sense of justice and truth it is a bit easier. In this sense the opposite of love is fear (which of course generates the emotion of hate – and is the source, as I see it, of current sinat chinam). The fight for social justice and the hatred of evil is based in truth. If we are not afraid of what we are fighting against it is much easier to allow ourselves the awareness that the neshama behind the manifestation of evil is rooted to the same place of holiness that our neshama is. Since the destruction of the Temple was attributed to a lack of social justice and a prevalence of sinat chinam it makes sense that in order to reach a time where the third temple can be built we must practice social justice and eradicate sinat chinam. This is somewhat demoralizing when we see how far from this we are as a nation and a people and in our communities. When people with esteemed religious titles spew hatred and utilize character assassination to support views (so obviously to others) born of ignorance this is unsettling to say the least. Is it not possible to argue against a person’s views without demeaning them as a person? To hate their politics without resorting to violence? To strive for the better good without trying to force people to conform to our (limited) perspectives? To make laws meant to help and not punish? To judge only after soul searching and not from the position of ignorance and antagonism? To accept other groups’ views as valid at some level even though we feel they are erroneous in their practical implications? I could go on and on lol but I think I have made my point.

    • I don’t have the same problem with the ultra-orthodox rabbis. No one is obligated to accept their rulings and I think that, even in cases where I find them seriously mistaken, their motives are the preservation of the Jewish people. I often disagree with their opinions and often wish they’d keep their mouths shut because their statements often create major problems, alienating the vast majority of the Jewish people and opening Torah to derision, but I’m not at all tempted to hate them.
      Also, we need to keep in mind that the press which reports on their doings is generally venemously opposed to them and to religion in any form as well, so they seize on what are often minor comments and asides and build them up in order to ridicule them. I know, for example, that much of Rav Ovadia’s zt”l “opinions” weren’t even said by him, although much was attributed to him in order to destroy his reputation. I know of very few leaders who embodied the love of all Jews, religious or not, as did he.
      But back to the main discussion, there seems to me to be a difference between people who are embarrassing and those who threaten the actual lives of innocent people. But even those in the latter category I tend to, perhaps, go overboard in trying to understand and accept (see Jacques Ruda’s comment and my reply below).
      Ultimately, I think Jewish disunity is a greater threat than the military, diplomatic and terrorist threats Israel faces. Not knowing how, I do have faith that we’ll persevere and not merely survive, but thrive. But the road might not be that smooth.

  2. Nathan Lopes Cardozo says:

    Many thanks, nathan

  3. Jacques Ruda says:

    Sinat chinam is baseless hatred. That is what we must avoid. When we see destructive, divisive or cruel behavior we should hate the behavior and the perpetrators. In the daily Ameda we say Lamalshinim al teheye tikva. There is a reason we say this prayer. The trick is to determine when a person has a principled disagreement. When does someone cross the line and take positions that are not taken in good faith but for destructive or nefarious purposes.

    • As always, Jacques, you’re right on! The trick of determining the presence or absence of principle isn’t an easy one and at times it can be excrutiating. My tendency is to strongly lean towards not classifying a fellow Jew as malshinim or minim, but I’m not sure that’s always the right approach.

      • Jacques Ruda says:

        I think you are right in giving people the benefit of the doubt. I also agree with you that the Jewish people are most vulnerable when there is a lack of unity of purpose. You might want to read “Like Dreamers” by Yossi Klien Halevi. It is about the paratroopers who liberated the Kotel in 1967 and the very different paths they took afterward. I think it
        it touches on how people can disagree about very fundamental issues and still have respect for each other.

      • I’ve heard good things about this book. I’ll get a copy and read it.
        While our tradition is largely based on disagreement, that’s disagreement within an agreed-upon framework. One can have a bounded area of truth, with everything “inside the lines” true, but with a definite border defining false. Or, acceptable/unacceptable, honest/lying, etc. So the problem arises when people who have placed themselves outside the acceptable boundaries of Judaism pretend to the authority to speak for Judaism.
        All that being said, I’m afraid that I often let my own, personal phobia of conflict cloud my judgement.

  4. Mr. Cohen says:

    Refuting the Jew Haters by Mr. Cohen, 2014/4/27,
    moderator of the Derech Emet yahoo group,

    I do NOT suggest that any Jew waste his or her time arguing with Jew haters, for many reasons.

    First, our obligation as Jews is to serve G_d, not argue with Jew hating lunatics.

    Second, they can be dangerous, and even if you think you are anonymous on the internet,
    you are not as anonymous as you think you are, and they may find you, G_d forbid.

    Third, many Jew haters are fanatics and/or lunatics, who will never listen to anything you say, or even use your words against Jews in ways you did not anticipate.

    Still, there are rare situations when it helps to know how to refute their accusations against Jews; for example, when a sincere Gentile co-worker or neighbor is influenced by the accusations of the Jew haters.

    One favorite accusation of the Jew haters is that Jews have been expelled from many countries and cities. Jew haters use this to imply that Jews are bad people.

    This accusation can be countered.

    When a Medieval king expelled Jews from his country, Jews were usually not able to take their possessions with them, so all the possessions of the Jews became the property of the king, including: land, houses, furniture, gold, silver, jewels, farm animals, etc.

    Even if the Jews had some way to take their money with them (which was far from guaranteed) they could not take their larger possessions with them. This permitted the kings to increase their wealth quickly with little risk.

    So kings had big financial incentives to expel their Jews, as did lords and dukes.

    Another reason why Jews were expelled many times from Christian countries was that Medieval Christians did not tolerate people whose beliefs disagreed with their own.

    Medieval European Christians also persecuted other Christians whose beliefs differed from their own. For example:

    In October 1536 CE, William Tyndale was publicly executed because he translated the Bible into English, even though he was Christian.

    Most Christians alive today tolerate people with different beliefs, but this tolerance is around one or two centuries old.

    We Jews should THANK G_D that we live in an era when most Christians no longer believe their religion wants them to persecute Jews.

    • I’m not squeamish about non-Jewish Jew Haters, but I’m reluctant to hate my fellow Jew, even when it appears to be justified. Especially in our day, lack of Achdut, Jewish unity, seems to me to be our biggest threat, much more so than military or diplomatic threats.

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