Jonathan Muskat

Let Us Start a Third Movement – Under the Banner of Humility

I am watching from the diaspora how my beloved State of Israel is mired in an internal struggle with no apparent end in sight. I was hoping that at the eleventh hour, some compromise could be made between the governing coalition and the opposition about the “reasonableness” legislation. But that didn’t happen. I personally don’t view the legislation limiting the courts’ use of the “reasonableness” of a government law or decision as necessarily turning Israel into a dictatorship or a theocracy. To me, it is a question of whether we give the Knesset or the judiciary more power in the absence of a Constitution and the likelihood that either the Knesset or the judiciary will abuse their power. I think that the tension as to the identity of the state being both Jewish and democratic is the real issue and it has come front and center with this legislation. Everyone is afraid of the slippery slope. Half the country is afraid that the country is becoming too secular as represented by the judiciary and half the country is afraid that the country is becoming a theocracy as represented by the coalition government. There is no indication that this tension will end any time soon because neither side trusts each other enough to compromise. Furthermore, the debate has turned into a game of identity politics, when I cannot concede anything to the other side because then I am viewed as a traitor to my own side.

That is why we need a third movement. What is the underlying value of this third movement? Humility.

The midrash in Breishit Rabbah 8:5 records a dialogue between God and the angels regarding the creation of the world.  Four midot, or different values, debated as to whether the world should be created. The midrash states:

“Chesed and Tzedek, the values of kindness and charity, advocated for the creation of the world, while emet and shalom, the values of truth and peace, advocated against it.  Chesed said that God is kind and therefore, He should perform an act of kindness and create the world. Emet said that God should not create the world because there is so much falsehood. Tzedek said that God should create the world because God does charitable acts. Shalom said that God should not create the world because there is so much fighting. What did God do? He took emet and threw emet to the ground. So now it was two against one – chesed and tzedek against shalom, and the two values of chesed and tzedek won and the world was created.”

What’s the message of this midrash? The Kotzker Rebbe explains that God specifically took emet out of the equation and not shalom. Why did God do that?  The Kotzker Rebbe explained that if shalom is saying that the world shouldn’t be created because there is machloket, i.e., arguments, fighting and disagreement in the world, then that assertion alone is insufficient to prevent the world from being created.  After all, disagreement is sometimes valuable to achieve a desired result. You have one opinion and I have a different opinion. We argue. We hear each other’s opinion and perhaps we learn from each other’s perspective to arrive at a more desirable result than had we not argued in the first place. But if the argument is based on emet, that I am convinced that I am definitely correct and that you are definitely incorrect, that I own the truth and you don’t own the truth, that we are talking at each other and not to each other. In this instance, the world can’t survive.

How do we create the world that the Kotzker Rebbe describes? Through humility. When God decided to create man, God Himself said “Let Us make man.” Rashi cites a midrash that explains that in describing the creation of man, God consulted with the angels and in doing so, He created a perception that maybe there are two deities.  After all, why did God need to consult with any other being, if God is all-powerful?  The point that our Sages are trying to convey is that God acted with humility in consulting the angels, despite the fact that it may have created a false perception of a fundamental theological principle. That’s how important the value of humility is.

Humility means that we are not certain that we own the truth. We believe that we have valid arguments, but so might our opponents. In Masechet Brachot 28b, the gemara states that at the end of his life, Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakkai was surrounded by his students and he started to weep.  He told them that he is crying because there are only two roads in front of him, one leading to Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden) and one to Gehinnom (the Netherworld) and he is not sure to which one he is being led.  Why did the great Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakkai, the leader who saved the Jewish people and kept our Torah alive and vibrant after the destruction of the second Beit Hamikdash, cry because he is not sure whether he will go to Gan Eden or Gehinnom? Rav Soloveitchik suggests that Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakkai’s tears were rooted in guilt and doubt as to whether he had not tried hard enough to save Jerusalem. He went to his grave in doubt about whether his version of the truth, that Jerusalem could not be saved, was in fact the truth, and yet so many of us don’t have the humility to consider that maybe our version of the truth is not really the truth.

That is why the state of Israel needs a mass movement of humility. What would this movement of humility look like? It would look something like this past edition of HaMizrachi magazine. The magazine contained many articles that dealt with the divisive political discourse and how to heal the rift in Israeli society. But it was not just an edition of empty platitudes. It contained an article summarizing a recent debate about judicial reform hosted by World Mizrachi between two legal experts, Professor Moshe Koppel, founder of Kohelet Policy Forum, and Professor Yedidia Stern, President of the Jewish People Policy Institute. Both positions were respected and validated in this magazine. That is humility that is so desperately needed today.

Many Israelis are forced to decide between one extreme and the other and then they are forced to blame the other side for not compromising because of identity politics. We need a third movement which so many Israelis would crave, a movement made up of those who truly desire to compromise, a movement that is headed by legal experts on both sides like Professor Koppel and Professor Stern, who both acknowledged in their debate that the two of them could probably come to a compromise that they could both live with. Imagine if these and other legal experts could arrive at a compromise that would acknowledge the fact that the coalition government won the previous election but at the same time acknowledge the need for consensus on issues that may significantly shape the Jewish-democratic character of the country. Imagine, then, if tens of thousands of Israelis would protest each and every week in support of this compromise under the banner of humility. Let us create this third movement and send a message to political leaders on the left and the right that there is a third path, a path of humility.

About the Author
Jonathan Muskat is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Oceanside.
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