Just like during the time of the Second Temple, our people is divided into many factions, but we have not yet fully ruptured into distinct bodies. We still come together and function as a whole for rare and precious moments, unfortunately often brought upon us by adversity. Will we actually split, and each find ourselves immeasurably poorer for our dislocation and alienation from another part of our collective self? Or will we heed the Talmud’s warning about the smallness and poverty of such a remnant?
The central question dividing our people today is the tension between particularism and universalism. Now that the ghetto walls have fallen, can we find a way to love ourselves as we are, with our unique gifts, flaws and contributions to the human story? Or will we surrender to the equally regressive and destructive impulses to either disown our own identities, or to build new walls of fear around them? Can we learn how to be respectfully, lovingly, different, and to help others find the gifts in their own difference? Can we learn how difference need not mean mutual hatred and dehumanization, but how it may in fact enlarge our understanding of what it is to be alive and be human?
If we can, we will begin to appreciate that to be fully ourselves is to give the entire world access to a tremendous and urgently needed treasury of wisdom and experience, and to open ourselves up to learning from the sacred treasuries of every human family. Our tradition teaches that the pathway to global redemption is laid by a mysterious figure known as Mashiach ben Yosef. Interestingly, it is taught that he will both unify the Jewish People and orchestrate a deep Tikun (fixing) of the relationship between us and the other nations (see the Malbim on Ezekiel 37:19, Sukkah 52a, Yerushalmi Brachot 2:4). When we are united, not by uniformity, but simply by respect and love, we will understand ourselves and our own heritage better, and we will be able to learn and teach with every people without fearing for our own integrity. Our tradition also teaches that the Torah was given in seventy languages, each one relating to a facet which only one of the seventy primal nations can teach us (see Sotah 32a, Shabbat 88a and Zohar, Genesis 36).
Imagine a Jewish People in love with our scriptures and liturgy, with the wisdom of our sages, with the wisdom and traditions of our ancestors and contemporaries in every corner of the world. Imagine us owning the fullness of who our family is and what we have to offer humanity. And imagine humanity, inspired by our self-love and self-understanding, celebrating our gifts and reciprocating by offering their own, each family in their own way.
Our internal divisions over universalism versus particularism have been greatly exacerbated by modernity. Imagine if, in stead of each celebrating only one Jewish response to modernity, and being suspicious of all others, we celebrated all of them – the secular messianism of socialism and the universal human rights movement, psychoanalysis, social criticism and the Frankfurt School, each stream of Chasidism, the Lithuanian Yeshiva Movement, the Mussar Movement, Modern and Open Orthodoxy, the Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist Movements, Renewal and the Carlebach phenomenon, the artistry of Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen, Carole King, Regina Spektor, Ofra Haza, Arik Einstein, Ehud Banai, Stanley Kubrick and Darren Aronofsky, to name but a few.
Each of these represents a part of our heritage, distilled by certain experiences, refracted through certain lenses. Imagine a Jewish world where these are not seen as competitors, but, as Rav Kook taught, parts of a whole that each need each other to find a profound completion. (See Shemonah Kevatzim I:163, Orot HaTechiyah 18 and Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook’s ‘Letter of a Young Idealist’) That does not mean that we each need to embody all of these responses, but rather simply to recognize that they are a part of our family’s story. It behooves us to love and respect everyone in our family, and to remember always that we are intimately interconnected, that we cannot understand ourselves, or be our best selves, without appreciating them. When we learn this about our own family, we will be ready to discover that the same thing applies to the broader human family, which is awaiting our gifts, and is waiting to share its own with us.
When this happens, we will be ready to put aside the Torah of exile and brokenness, and to receive the Torah of wholeness, and to live in a no-longer fractured world. Then, the Three Weeks of mourning will be transformed into a celebration of redemption for all humanity.