“A little learning makes the whole world kin.” — Proverbs 32:7
In thinking about an elusive sense of kinship in Israel just about now, I was reminded of this Mark Twain quote. Bible scholars or anyone with a phone app to source will quickly note that Proverbs, the Book-of-Wisdom ends in Chapter 31. Twain’s fictitious wisdom citation mocks a popular world-experience where a “little” learning (rather than a substantive or sufficient amount of it) leads to shallow understanding, which in turn results in a shared ordeal of misinformation and misinterpretation.
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While the outrageous stories of Tel Aviv on Yom Kippur are disturbing, many of the responses were only mildly less so. I heard people claim that ‘Tel Aviv is an anomaly,’ ‘an island off of Israel,’ but I assert that Tel Aviv is a paradigm for all of Israel. Not the brazen behavior, but the passion and the sensitivities- the values, drive and freedoms. Moreover, similar altercations happened in other cities and towns throughout Israel, including my own town of Zichron Yaakov.
I chose to live in a place where a diversity of fervent citizens live side by side.
We have failed of late, with “little learning” and listening to/from and about one another. The lack of trust and concern regarding who will ‘rule’ the public and private domains of our future has transformed the religious into the political and the political into a lightning rod. Sparks of fusion ignited specifically in those very places where the vibrant animated diversity of Israel is present and we have not yet learned how to hear, understand and connect to one another.
Outdoor prayers in a park can be an enlightening departure from the closed-off synagogue space. It can foster a shared experience that is open, aware and engaged. It can bind together those who pray thrice a day throughout the year with those who participate specifically there, without the daunting challenge of crossing a synagogue threshold. At the same time the pain of the political weltanschauung and concern for protecting rights of equality emboldened those with perceptions of a crushed sense of justice.
Now is the moment of responsibility. We must acknowledge the incredible accomplishments of our Zionist visionaries and builders and lift up the baton for our generation’s mission. The Zionist visionary Yosef Trumpeldor himself foretold the needs of our nation of builders. ‘We need citizens who will see what needs to be done and be selflessly willing to assume the role. If we are missing a wheel, we need citizens who are so dedicated to taking care of what is necessary that they will declare, “I am the wheel!”’
Now is the time to figure this out. How can we have compatriots who are passionate and driven — and also truly empathetic and tolerant of one another?
Khalil Gibran, the 20th century Lebanese-American writer offered, “Let there be spaces in your togetherness, And let the winds of the heavens dance between you…. Give one another of your bread, but eat not from the same loaf. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music… And stand together, yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.” (The Prophet)
Perhaps similar to our most intimate relationships, we must learn how to come close to one another and how to give one another space to hold up our temple pillars. We need to be thoughtful, passionate and independent — yet ready to harken and stand tall together.
We need to dedicate more resources to learning, together and apart. Deep Torah and value development is enriched by mingling the voices of those who grew up suckled by the rabbinic midrash with those who bring the breadth of their life experiences outside of religion. Torah belongs to all of the people of Israel and Israel’s Jewish and democratic future depends on all of our voices.
As Thomas Jefferson wrote, “I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.”
For a vibrant democracy, we need to believe in each other’s capacity to grow and want to do better.
We are on the eve of the holiday of Sukkot, a seven-day festival celebrating the Jewish people’s national journey. We build sukkot (booths) with walls and roofs and yet the Talmud elastically imagines, “For seven days… all who belong to the people of Israel will live in sukkot” (Lev. 23:42). This teaches that it is fitting for all of Israel to sit in one sukkah. (BT, Sukkah 27b) This architectural exploit and inner contradiction is part of the same vision. While we have principles and ideas that shape us, it is still fitting for us all to sit together. If we only have our individual beliefs without an aspiration to bind together, we lose meaning in our shared journey of past, present or future.
Similarly the four species that we take on Sukkot are guided by a curious fundamental principle. We must each own our individual set. (BT Sukkah 29b) This independent ownership is vital to our ability to celebrate. Our personal vestedness in the lulav and etrog yields a depth that is essential to the human experience — as vital as connection to others is.
With the hope and prayer that we have experienced some deep learning from the events of this past Yom Kippur, that we are prepared to wipe the tears from our eyes and invest in understanding and moving the wheel forward in building our country. May it be a festival of much learning and appreciation.