The fall holidays are primarily interested in relations between man and God, between the Jewish people and the Creator. Not so the spring holidays. There is a common denominator that unites these holidays – the unity of the Jewish people.
Pesah – “And Moses said: with our young and our old we shall go, with our sons and daughters… for it is a festival of the Lord for us” (Exodus 10:9). When Moses said “Let my people go!” he was not asking to depart from Egypt with the men alone or the women alone or the boys or girls alone. He meant the entire Jewish people.
Yom Hashoah – People used to think that the Holocaust was an Ashkenazi phenomenon. We know today that this is incorrect; the Nazis intended to murder all the Jews in the world. Indeed, they succeeded in murdering most of the Ladino speaking Jews of Salonika and they began to murder the Jews of North Africa. They only stopped because they were expelled from North Africa by the British army.
Yom Ha’atzma’ut – This holiday not only symbolizes the physical victory of the Yishuv against the seven nations who wished to destroy us, but also the miracle of the Ingathering of the Exiles to the State of Israel. When I served in the IDF, the 63 soldiers in my unit hailed from 23 different countries.
Lag Ba’omer – We have learned in Yevamot 62b: “Rabbi Akiva had 12,000 pairs of disciples… and they all died at one period of time because they did not treat one another with respect… It has been taught: They all died between Pesah and Shavuot…”. In other words, according to this story, 24,000 disciples of Rabbi Akiva died in a plague between Pesah and Shavuot because they did not treat one another with respect.
Yom Yerushalayim – It says in the Book of Psalms (122:3) “Jerusalem built up is like a city knit together”, which was explained in the Jerusalem Talmud (Hagigah 3:6, fol. 79d): “a city which makes kol yisrael haverim, all of Israel united in friendship”.
Shavuot – When the Torah was given at Mount Sinai, it was not given to men alone or women alone. It was given to the entire Jewish people — men, women and children.
In summary, one of the clear messages of the spring holidays is the unity of the Jewish people and that they “make all of Israel united in friendship”. Unfortunately, the Jews of Israel have not yet begun to internalize this message. It is as if we have witnessed the Ingathering of the Exiles – kibbutz galuyot – but not the Ingathering of our Hearts. There is verbal and physical violence between the right and left; between Haredim, religious Zionists and the secular; between Orthodox, Conservative and Reform.
During the past few weeks, I have heard about the cancellation of an interfaith event because some Orthodox rabbis did not want to sit with non-Orthodox rabbis; about a Conservative convert in Israel who attended synagogue on a regular basis who could not be buried for three days until her family bribed a hevra kadisha (burial society) in another town; and about a Conservative synagogue in Jerusalem which was defaced by Swastikas.
We are going to have to work very hard in order to attain a simple yet difficult-to-obtain goal – unity without uniformity. On the one hand “Israel will not be redeemed until they are one bundle” (Tanhuma Buber, Nitzavim, pp. 48-49), but, on the other hand, “there are seventy faces to the Torah” (Bemidbar Rabbah 13: 15-16). There are many ways to be Jewish and every Jew must respect every other Jew even if they disagree entirely. Indeed, this is the reason that the Schechter Institute confers the annual Liebhaber Prize for Religious Tolerance under whose auspices we are now running a “Spring of Tolerance” campaign.
During the past few days, we have witnessed a rare phenomenon – a Jewish Rabbi and a Catholic Priest who have been good friends for twenty years, despite the huge gap in their religious practices and beliefs. If Rabbi Avraham Skorka and Pope Francis can be “soul brothers”, we too can achieve the goal of “uniting all of Israel in friendship”.