As an American Jew raised in a Modern Orthodox family, I have been fortunate to learn in various religious and academic settings throughout my lifetime. And while the affiliations of my educators have been most diverse, spanning from ultra orthodox to completely liberal, they all seemed to preach one thing in common, that being acceptance. However, I often wrestled with this concept since there was a dissonance between the ideal world they spoke of and the reality of the world in which I lived.
In our political climate that fosters such notions of equality and tolerance, it seems almost paradoxical that my Jewish counterparts, whose holy Torah is rooted in this fundamental principle, would not act in abidance. Rather, I stand here today confused and frustrated, with a figurative suitcase of judgmental incidents from people with whom I share a heritage. Although, this narrative is not about me, or solely me, at least, it is about our people, and how we have become negligent in allowing this critical commandment to love our fellow brethren slip between the cracks.
We mustn’t forget that the very reason the second temple was destroyed was for this sin of hating others. We often talk about the power of love but this is a clear demonstration of the power of hate and just how destructive it can be. It leads us to think, if it was this sin that destroyed the Beit Hamikdash, should not we act inversely to counter those effects and hasten the coming of Moshiach, and ultimately the third temple?
The Tanya teaches us just how valued the mitzvah to love another Jew is in Chapter 32. Specifically, the text describes how our spiritual souls are what bind us together and how our physical bodies are what separate us from one another. Hence, the more we focus on materialistic factors, the more we are increasing the tensions. Instead, we should stop focusing on the external aspects but place more emphasis on our souls, those which unify us rather than distinguish us.
The Tanya elaborates more on this topic, stating “The purpose of the creation of every Jew and of all the worlds is to make a dwelling place for G‑d in this world.” [Tanya Ch. 33] But how can we expect the Holy One to reside in an atmosphere that reeks of hate and intolerance? Where can we expect G-d to wedge himself amid these cushions of hate?
Interestingly, the Talmud relays the crucial story of Hillel the Elder which explicitly implies the weight of Ahavat Yisrael. When a convert approached him and asked to be taught the totality of the Torah on one foot, Hillel the Elder replied with words that would never be forgotten in Jewish history: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is but commentary…”
It is a common thought to believe that anyone below us is not religious and anyone above us is outright crazy, but who has drawn this objective line of where we stand and who is dictating that this is definitive? Each person on this planet is here for a designated purpose, navigating through life by seeking Truth in some way that is meaningful to them, whether it be science, religion, or the myriad of paths that exist in between. But to choose one path, does not mean to invalidate another or disrespect someone else’s lifestyle. The beauty of our people lies within our diversity. In fact, Autumn has just begun, and soon we will see all the leaves change color and we will surely marvel at its beauty. But if every leaf looked identical, it would not have the same effect. The same rule applies to Judaism. Our differences enable us to learn from each other as we each bring something new to the table.
In an era where anti semitism still lingers and rises on certain occasions, tensions between our own sects of Judaism should not be tolerated. Why should we go to war against each other when there are much larger battles to fight? So, let us stop burning bridges and start building new ones. Let us stop trying to defy diversity, and start embracing it. After all, Pirkei Avot teaches us that the wisest man is he who can learn from everyone.
Therefore, as the new year begins, and we accept the Torah yet again, I urge you all to hold this mitzvah close to your heart. In fact, wear it on your sleeve as a badge of honor and let it be known to others. Smile more. Laugh more. Invite your neighbor for a meal. Ask questions and try to understand those who differ from you. Start this year with a little more love and try to learn something from every person you meet. Shana Tova and may this year be filled with love, growth, and much more acceptance!