Not everything needs to be reconciled. Beyond the wonders and beauty, being Jewish means living with ambiguity, ambivalence, and often with regret.
Many of us grapple with dilemmas and dichotomies which defy our efforts to resolve or reconcile them. This includes balancing our commitment to a secure and prosperous Israel against the horrific human costs for ordinary Gazans — especially in the wake of last Saturday’s sadistic, depraved orgy of murder, torture, and degradation. It impacts those who believe in pushing for true peace and coexistence, the only sustainable solution, and who now find themselves taking up arms in Israel or waving Israeli flags in the Diaspora. It includes those trying to make sense of how, eight decades after the Holocaust and following millennia of persecution, the Jewish people still can’t find peace and full acceptance.
In synagogues yesterday, we restarted the weekly readings from the Torah, beginning with the Creation story of Genesis. It still amazes me, the lengths to which people will go to try and prove that the Earth is either billions of years old or barely 6,000, or that there’s a way to square six days of creation with geological and archaeological evidence to the contrary.
The Jewish way, if there is one, has generally been to not try and reconcile everything. Some answers are unknowable, and some of the deepest contradictions are not meant to be reconciled. Over the centuries, Jews have thrived when we could carry in our heads the knowledge that the universe is eons old and that it was created in six days. Key scientific advances have been achieved by people who also believed in the miracles of creation and existence, and of God in history.
Concepts of free will and pre-determinism do not comprise a paradox. Logically, paradoxes don’t even exist, but their appearance merely reflects a lack of complete information, understanding, or imagination.
It is possible to labor for mutual coexistence and embrace the other, while also being devastated by the Hamas pogrom and knowing the only conceivable response — given circumstances beyond our control — is to eliminate Hamas and stop the attacks on Israeli civilians.
The people who know for sure that the truth is black and white, all one version to the exclusion of the other, are fundamentalists. That kind of absolutism has been behind our greatest failings, national tragedies, and traumas.
Israeli ideals and Palestinian aspirations need not cancel each other out, if we look for the complementary rather than the confrontational aspects. The idea that Palestinians dwelling in lands of our own biblical patrimony, Muslims praying on the Temple Mount, somehow negate our belief in an eventual divinely driven but vaguely prophesied Messianic era — that’s the certainty that turns neighbor against neighbor, Jew against Jew.
We can’t control what politicians, mass movements and our enemies do, but we certainly have agency over how we process events and pressures. Whatever our lofty visions and perfect scenarios, we live in real time in the real world, and it doesn’t help to pretend it isn’t confusing and hard. There’s no secret formula embedded in the Torah text which gives us a roadmap — the Torah was given to us, as flawed as we are.
Especially now, let’s not beat ourselves over the head for being imperfect or for not living in a perfect world. We are humans, we don’t have all the answers, and we don’t need to make sense of how what’s being inflicted on Jewish hostages right now in the belly of Gaza may or may not square with Israel’s mounting campaign to take out Hamas, how such a powerful military as the IDF could be caught so unprepared and flat-footed.
We must aspire to our highest values, knowing we will fall short, but always open to new data and new pathways and to perfecting the world in God’s spirit — even when we ourselves feel confused, bewildered, and insecure. This is what makes us human, this is what gives us hope, a blurry state which is both sacred and healthy, and necessarily humbling.