Learning to love even those we dislike

Rosh Hashana is approaching in a few days and I am truly frightened. My fear stems not just from God’s impending annual judgment, but from the current status of our people and how we will appear before Him.

Next week we will gather in synagogues around the world and beseech the Almighty – “v’yeiasu kulam aguda achas, bring us together with unity and togetherness in Your service.” At this moment, for too many, that prayer will be utterly disingenuous, as they have no interest or even tolerance to be together or unified with many of their fellow Jews.

Recently, my Facebook page played host to a heated exchange in the comments section. An individual was respectfully but rigorously defending his support of the Iran deal. Someone who saw his position contacted me and actually suggested that I unfriend or block him for espousing such vile and dangerous positions.

My fear is that we have reached a point that friends who have opposite opinions on the Iran deal and other contentious issues are unfriending each other online and in real life, incapable and unwilling to maintain a relationship with those that have come to different conclusions than they have on any range of issues.

I have been an outspoken opponent of the Iran deal. I have written about and spoken about why I feel this deal is devastatingly dangerous and an enormous mistake with the gravest consequences. I have attended rallies, I have met with members of Congress, I have been to Washington to lobby and I am going back again this week. Nobody can doubt where I stand on, or how strongly I feel about, this issue.

And yet, I am fully aware and I recognize that not everybody, including many of my fellow Jews, feels as I do. They don’t love Israel less than I and they are not less concerned about our national security here in America than I am. They simply come at this issue from a different vantage point, trust different experts, defer to the opinion of different leaders in America and Israel, and have come to a different conclusion. I am not happy with their conclusion. Frankly, I find it difficult to even comprehend their conclusion. But nevertheless, I accept their right to have arrived at a different conclusion and I am committed to love them as fellow Jews despite their different conclusion.

The Jerusalem Talmud (Berachos 9:1) tells us “Just as no two physical appearances are the same, similarly, no two opinions are the same.” Nobody has ever stopped talking to his or her friend because his eyes are a different color or her hair is a different style. Nobody has ever looked at a friend who is a different height or build or has different features and expressed hostility and anger for those differences. Why? Because we all intuitively know and implicitly accept that we are born with DNA that predisposes us towards our appearance. Our Rabbis were teaching us to recognize that similarly, our genetic makeups, our socio-economic statuses, our backgrounds, our experiences, and our lives predispose us to different opinions, perspectives, and conclusions. We recognize the right of others to look differently and we must acknowledge their right to think differently as well.

After all, what choice do we really have? We are one people, one nation, and one covenantal community. Essentially, we are one family. Sometimes there are members of your family whose actions or behavior you disapprove of. There are times that you will disagree passionately with a member of your family and not even be able to comprehend their perspective. We don’t always like every member of our family. But nevertheless, the Torah tells us we need to love them.

V’ahavta l’reiacha kamocha, love your neighbor as yourself, is not a commandment to feel a romantic love or even an emotional connection necessarily. It is a mandate to exhibit love and relate with love, even when dealing with someone you don’t like. We don’t have to always approve nor must we always agree, but we must conduct ourselves as a loyal and cohesive family. We are all in this together. We are responsible for one another. We have a shared history and like it or not, we will share one destiny.

Congress’s vote on the Iran deal is going to be taken soon and there will come a day after. As we approach Rosh Hashana, it is time to worry about what our family will look like on that day after if we can’t talk to one another, live with one another, or love one another again. What would our lives look like and how would our people function if we were no longer talking to all of those with whom we disagreed on Oslo and the Gaza withdrawal, or with whom we still disagree on abortion, gun control, same sex marriage, or the Iran deal? The command to love your neighbor doesn’t apply only to your neighbor with whom you agree and who votes like you and practices Judaism like you. It is most challenging and most meaningful when practiced with those with whom we disagree and even of whom we disapprove.

Loving someone doesn’t mean we can’t disagree or debate passionately. It means we must remain respectful throughout our dialogue and that when the dust settles and the debate ends, the things that we disagree about don’t define our relationship. It means when we disagree, even on something as critical and consequential as the Iran deal, we don’t write off or break off from those that have come to a different conclusion on how to best care for America and Israel. Loving fellow Jews means having their backs, being loyal and functioning as a family, regardless of our differences. It means not being dismissive, derogatory or denying others the right to be different and still be part of our family.

Granted, Jewish law acknowledges that there are those who have forfeited the right to be loved by us. The wicked, our rabbis teach, have removed themselves from our family and are deserving of our animosity and dislike. While perhaps members of Neturei Karta who wave the Iranian flag and conspire with Israel’s enemies belong in this category, clearly those who love Israel and seek her security but disagree with us on how to achieve it, are full members of our family, deserving of our love and our loyalty.

When we stand before the Almighty on Rosh Hashana, He will not have an interest in hearing from us if at the same moment we seek to talk to Him, we are not talking to groups of His children. When we recite kedusha in the repetition of the Amidah each day, we bow to our left and to our right. Rav Shlomo Wolbe writes (Alei Shor 2:431) that before we can affirm our love of God and acknowledge His holiness, we first need to look at those on the left of us and those on the right of us and affirm our love and acceptance of them.

On seder night, we perform yachatz and break the middle matzah, and then recite magid, the story of our exodus. Our story can only be told, explains the Bobover Rebbe, if we bring both halves to the table.  Our story is still being written and this is a crucial chapter. We can and should continue a rigorous debate and, given the stakes, respectfully lobby as hard as we can for our side. However, we need both halves at our family table. Rosh Hashana is coming and if we want Hashem to find favor with us, we need to find favor with one another.

It is time to heal our family and find a way to love one another even when we vehemently disagree with one another. Only then can we sincerely come before God as one nation, one people, one family, turning to our Father in Heaven for a year of peace and prosperity.

About the Author
Rabbi Efrem Goldberg is the senior rabbi of the Boca Raton Synagogue in Boca Raton, Florida.