It’s the night before the opening of the new school year in Israel. “May it be a year of mutual responsibility” (Tehey Shnat Arvut Hadadit Ve’Achrayut Ishit). Playing on the letters of the Hebrew year, the Education Ministry offered this prayer, or even better, aspiration. It couldn’t be more appropriate after a summer that has left us reeling, bleeding, with the power of our hatred for the other.
One year ago, we had too much of our own suffering to have space left for serious introspection about the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir and what it says about us as a society. I remember the answer I gave my 10 year old daughter, who asked if it was Jews that burned that young boy. “I don’t think so.”The discovery that it was not only Jews, but Jews raised with a religious education (I don’t think they can in any way properly be called ‘religious Jews’) was a slap in the face that meant that the possibility that it wasn’t Jewish terrorists that killed little Ali Dawabsha is really beside the point. We all know now that it could have been. And the murder of Shira Banki in God’s name on the same day erased any lingering doubt. After a summer when we enjoyed relative safety from our external enemies, we are forced to face our own demons, the sickness eating at our society.
How? What is the educational message we need to convey? The most important thing I can impart to my students is captured by a word which appears once in the entire Torah, in chapter 27. Hasket.
“Hasket and Listen, Israel, on this day you have become a nation to your God. And you shall listen to God’s voice…”
Listening is critical. Israeli society needs it desperately. Hasket is the prerequisite for listening. What does it mean?
Some commentators relate it to the word sheket, quiet. In order to listen to another opinion, you must first be able to quiet yourself. If you’ve ever watched a Knesset discussion, or sat in on a typical class in a typical school, you know that even this simple step is sorely lacking. The ability to be quiet and hear out someone with whom you deeply disagree is a skill that students must practice and be trained in.
But the rabbinic midrash takes it a step deeper. Rabbi Yehuda, “sermonizing for the glory of the Torah”, suggests that before one can listen, one must create groups upon groups of learning, kitot kitot (Berachot 63b). The Gemara continues with the harshest criticism of those sages who sit alone and learn Torah. What’s so bad about that?
Rav Kook suggests a profound explanation (Ein Aya, Brachot, 308): It is only from a multiplicity of opinions about Torah that the right path can emerge. It is only within the peace that emerges from tolerance for others’ opinions that God can reside. When a person is closed up in his own opinions, or within the uniform opinions of his ideology, he doesn’t learn to tolerate difference. This is the greatest threat to peace, and to the Jewish people’s wellbeing.
“Hasket and hear, Israel…and hear God’s voice”. If we want to start to heal the wounds of the summer, and the wounds of our society, the message religious educators must teach is this. There is no way to listen to God’s voice without knowing how to listen to and learn from everyone with whom we disagree.
This blog follows the 929 project, sharing reflections on the daily chapter of Tanach. To learn more about the project, visit 929.org.il