Transcript of a special talk by Rabbi Anchelle Perl director of Chabad Mineola, as he addressed the theme ‘Supreme Justice: Establishment of Harmony in Society’ as a guest speaker with the Long Island Chapter of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.
The rabbi joined with Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and Police Commissioner Pat Ryan and President of the local muslim community Rizwan Alladin.
THE PATHS TO UNITY
Why is there so much conflict in the world? Why is there so much animosity toward the “other”?
First let us consider the following facts:
Fact 1: People are different. No two minds are the same, just like no two faces are the same. If G-d wanted us all to be the same, He would have created a single human being. There are 7.8 billion of us because the divine plan requires 7.8 billion different individuals.
Fact 2: Differences tend to lead to conflict. Look at the world today: Ninety percent of all conflicts are between groups of people who have a marked difference between them (race, religion, culture, nationality, level of education, economic class, etc.). The differences create an “us/them” mentality. One group doesn’t “get” the other and is therefore quick to blame all of its problems on the “other.”
But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, differences can also serve as the ingredients of harmony and unity. Think multiple flavors in a gourmet dish. Think multiple colors in a painting.
People are different, and differences often lead to alienation and conflict. But differences can also serve as the ingredients for a harmonious coexistence. How do we direct our diversity toward harmony rather than strife?
A FAILED APPROACH
In general, there two approaches to this challenge: A) The parallel tracks approach. B) The reciprocal relationship approach.
Another term for the “parallel tracks” approach is the popular term pluralism. Where all paths are equal. None is greater, better, or “higher” than the other. Furthermore, they all share a common goal. So, one would expect that, ultimately, there will be unity.
But this approach often fails. “Pluralism” is not always a viable model. One of the problems is that the different paths meet only at the “end” (at the goal). Up until that point, they are different and distinct, with no lines of connection between them. This leaves open — and even invites — the possibility for alienation and conflict.
Pluralism breaks down in this way. At the beginning everything looks beautiful. Equality reigns, even mutual respect. The drawback with this method, each “tract” is completely independent of the other. I don’t need you for anything. This may be an OK situation. Some might even see it as a positive thing.
But ultimately our independence from each other has created a state of alienation. We each live in our own “bubble” of a closed world, which is disconnected from the other “bubbles.” We’re all very different from each other, and don’t really understand the other’s world. At best, we’re tolerating each other because we value the ideal of “tolerance.” End results it all falls apart. Alienation has devolved into animosity and conflict.
A SUCCESSFUL APPROACH
Now, let us look at the second approach: reciprocal relationships. In a reciprocal relationship, there is always a giver and a recipient. Without give and take — I need something from you, you need something from me — there is no true relationship.
And, again by definition, the giver stands on a higher level (I have something that you want/need), while the recipient occupies the lower station (I lack something that I want/need from you).
In other words, this model requires both humility and generosity. Humility for me to recognize that you have something that I need, and to be open to receiving it from you. And generosity to recognize that I have something that you need, and to be open to sharing it with you.
EVERY HUMAN BEING IS WORTHY OF PROFOUND RESPECT
Our purpose in life is to emulate God. One of the most powerful ways we do so is by giving. When we give to someone, we recognize the common bond between us — our shared status as souls created in the image of God. Every human being — whether red, black, or a different religious perspective than me — is created in the image of G-d and thus worthy of profound respect. When we connect to their inner G-dliness we transcend the physical barriers that appear to divide us.
Giving draws us closer, adding another drop of love and unity between us. This is the bedrock of creating a loving family; it is equally crucial to creating a united humanity.
That does not mean we all need to be identical. Rather, unity means showing respect to each individual and appreciating their unique contribution to the collective whole.
Especially in these challenging times, it is crucial that we build unity by engaging in acts of kindness, caring and tolerance toward others.
Our challenge is to perceive opinions that differ from our own as containing a glimpse of Divinity, a different aspect of truth that had eluded our grasp. We must find within ourselves the love and strength to value and cherish those divergent opinions, as well as the individuals who express them.
Unfortunately, human nature seems prone to attack what is different, whether it’s a difference in the color of skin, the type of clothing, or the ideas espoused by others. If we are to learn to value others, we must constantly be aware that their “differences” may be revealing to us a facet of truth that our own souls somehow missed.