Avi Weiss
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Loving other Jews: A meditation

This is a moment to remember that we Jews are family, and to hold each other in our hearts, for the coming year
Hands form the shape of a heart, against a colorful sunset. (iStock)
Hands form the shape of a heart, against a colorful sunset. (iStock)

With all that has been happening in Israel these days, this poem/prayer — especially written as we gather on the High Holidays — expresses the hope that somehow we unite, respectfully listening to each other as family.  It is a Kavannah L’Ahavat Yisrael, a meditation for the love of the Jewish people. Lu yehi, lu yehi — if only, if only.

A pintele Yid
A lonely Jew
A vulnerable Jew

A pintele yud
A lone mark
A tiny Hebrew letter

A yud aside another
A Jew beside an other
Evokes the Name of God
In unity, God sees
It is good

Unity is never uniformity
Uniformity is uni form
Crushing other views
Unity is uni tied, united
Despite differences

Dear dear God
Help us to know that
Am Yisrael is more than
The Nation of Israel
We are Family

And the test of family
Is not how we love
When we agree
But how we love
When we disagree

May we be careful with our words
For while a word is a word
And a deed is a deed
Words we say
Can lead to harmful, fatal deeds

May we not question
The motives of the other –
But instead
Listen to the other
Learn from the other

Sing and dance
The Psalmist’s dream
“Behold how beautiful how sweet
Sisters and brothers

Illuminate the Hasidic vision:
Every Yid has a single light
That begins and ends
But together, our lights fuse
Endless, eternal

With You
In unity
As family
In togetherness
With light forever

Help us, help us declare:
I am a kitzoni — an extremist Jew.
Not on the right, not on the left,
But an extremist in
Loving Other Jews.

Ahavat Yisrael

אַ פִּינְטֶעלֶע יִיד
יְהוּדִי בּוֹדֵד
יְהוּדִי שַׁבְרִירִי

א פינטעלע יו”ד
סִימָן בּוֹדֵד
אוֹת עִבְרִית זְעִירָה

נִצֶּבֶת יו”ד בְּצַד יו”ד
עוֹמֵד יְהוּדִי בְּצַד אָחִיו
וּפוֹרֵץ שֵׁם הָאֱ־לֹהִים
בְּאַחְדוּת, וַיַּרְא אֱ־לֹהִים
כִּי טוֹב

אַחְדוּת לְעוֹלָם אֵינֶנָּה אֲחִידוּת
כִּי הָאֲחִידוּת הִיא
רִסּוּק שֶׁל דֵּעוֹת אֲחֵרוֹת
אַךְ אַחְדוּת הִיא חַיֵּי יַחַד
לַמְרוֹת כָּל הַהֶבְדֵּלִים

הוֹ, אֱ־לֹהִים הַיָּקָר
סַיַּע לָנוּ לְהַכִּיר
שֶׁעַם יִשְׂרָאֵל
הוּא יוֹתֵר מֵעַם,
שֶׁכֻּלָּנוּ בְּנֵי מִשְׁפָּחָה אַחַת

וּמִשְׁפָּחָה נִבְחֶנֶת
לֹא רַק בְּאַהֲבָתָהּ
כְּשֶׁכֻּלָּהּ בְּדֵעָה אַחַת
אֶלָּא כֵּיצַד הִיא אוֹהֶבֶת
כְּשֶׁאֵין בְּקִרְבָּהּ הַסְכָּמָה

נַקְפִּיד עַל מוֹצָא שְׂפָתֵינוּ
כִּי בְּעוֹד מִלָּה הִיא מִלָּה
וּמַעֲשֶׂה הוּא מַעֲשֶׂה
דְּבָרִים הַיּוֹצְאִים מִן הַפֶּה
עֲלוּלִים לְהָבִיא לְתוֹצָאוֹת נוֹרָאוֹת, אֲיֻמּוֹת

לֹא נְעַרְעֵר עַל
מְנִיעָיו שֶׁל הָאַחֵר
אַדְּרַבָּא –
נַאֲזִין אֶל הָאַחֵר
נִלְמַד מִן הָאַחֵר

נִרְקֹד וְנָשִׁיר
אֶת חֲזוֹנוֹ שֶׁל הַמְּשׁוֹרֵר
“הִנֵּה מַה טּוֹב וּמַה נָּעִים
שֶׁבֶת אַחִים
גַּם יַחַד”

הָאֵר אֶת חֲזוֹנָהּ שֶׁל הַחֲסִידוּת:
לְכָל יְהוּדִי אוֹר מְיֻחָד מִשֶּׁלּוֹ
הַנִּדְלָק וְדוֹעֵךְ
אַךְ יַחְדָּיו, מִתְמַזְּגִים אוֹרוֹתֵינוּ
בְּלֹא קֵץ, לְעוֹלָמִים

בְּאוֹר נִצְחִי

עֲזֹר לָנוּ, עֲזֹר לָנוּ לְהַכְרִיז
כִּי “יְהוּדִי קִיצוֹנִי” אֲנִי
לֹא לְיָמִין אוֹ לִשְׂמֹאל
אֶלָּא קִיצוֹנִי,
קִיצוֹנִי בְּאַהֲבַת אַחַי הַיְּהוּדִים

אַהֲבַת יִשְׂרָאֵל


This “Kavannah” was composed by Rabbi Avi Weiss, translated into Hebrew by Prof. Avigdor Shinan, and vocalized by Araleh Admanit. Rav Avi wishes to thank Rabbi Ezra Seligsohn, Gaya Aranoff Bernstein, and Rabbi Aaron Frank for their input and encouragement.

 * * *

Explanatory Comments

A pintele Yid: This phrase is normally understood to refer to the spark (nitzotz) in every Jew. No matter how distant, every Yid, deep, deep down, has a Jewish inner soul, with the potential to grow. Here, we take a different approach, understanding pintele as a small, lonely Jew. And yet, two Jews aside each other, no matter how vulnerable, can find relief.

I first heard this thought many decades ago during the first International Conference for Soviet Jewry, held in Brussels. At its close, a tall, young man was given the floor. Sharing that he came from Buenos Aires, where, as a Jew, he felt particularly isolated and alone, like a pintele Yid, he looked out at the thousands in attendance. Through tears he shared, “and now, standing with you in unity, in common cause, I feel like a yud near another yud, together spelling the name of God.”

A Jew beside another: The yud, an inanimate letter, is aside another yud. In contrast, a Yid, a person, a Jew, stands beside an other, the other being a fellow or sister Jew, with other views, other opinions.

God sees it is good: A play on the Genesis I phrase, “And God saw it was good.”

Unity…uniformity: This thought is inspired by the Midrash describing the evil ways of the people of Sodom. As one entered the city, they were placed on a cot. If they were longer, their feet were cut off. If shorter, their feet were stretched. The goal was to create automatons, everyone looking and thinking in absolute sync — in uniformity.

Dear, dear: This in the spirit of the Midrash, which comments that God’s calling out to Abraham twice, “Abraham, Abraham,” just as he was ready to sacrifice Isaac — is the language of endearment. So, too, “dear, dear.”

Help us know: The biblical term “know – yada” speaks to the closest of relationships between people, “And Adam knew his wife Eve.”

We are family: Genesis is the story of a broken family that becomes whole. It is when all of Jacob’s sons receive blessings that Genesis closes and the Book of Exodus begins. This is the book that deals with the birth of our nation – teaching that the best model of nation is family. In fact, the Genesis covenant, the Covenant of the Pieces, can be called the Covenant of Family – a proper precursor to the Exodus Covenant of Sinai focusing on the nation of Israel. And so, my custom: whenever hearing of a community within the nation of Israel in need, I substitute the word “family” for “nation” and try to act accordingly.

Words we say can lead to harmful, fatal deeds: Of course, improper words themselves can be deeply painful. The old saying, “sticks and stones can break my bones but names can never harm me” is not true. Names, bad words, can hurt.

Today, however, we must be especially careful with our words and slogans as they could lead to violence, to God forbid Jews raising a hand against other Jews.

May we not question the motives of the other: This, in the spirit of Pirkei Avot, reminds us to judge others favorably.

Listen to the other: As one who is hearing impaired, I know, firsthand, the precious nature of this sense. Still, hearing is a far cry from listening, that is, taking words said and integrating them into our deepest selves. When counseling and trying to help another, perhaps, as suggested by many, we should see the word “WAIT” in front of us: Why Am I Talking.

Illuminating the Hasidic vision: Often attributed to the Ba’al Shem Tov and evoked under the chuppah (wedding canopy) with the lights referring to bride and groom. Here, it refers to any two individuals.

With you: A loving call to join God in prayer. The ultimate You, the “I-Thou relationship,” as explicated by Dr. Martin Buber.

But an extremist in loving other Jews: Extremism is often associated with the far right and left; it can, however, also refer to the center. In a world where many are machmir (stringent), following the strictest of halachic positions, we should find a way to be absolutely machmir on the mitzvah of Ahavat Yisrael (loving one’s fellow Jew).

Ahavat Yisrael: Of course, ahavat Yisrael does not contradict ahavat habriyot (loving creation), our responsibility to love humankind. This kavannah, intention, however, is an ahavat Yisrael moment — a moment that, given the difficulties of this past year, is desperately needed.

About the Author
Avi Weiss is the founding rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, Bronx, N.Y., and founder of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and Yeshivat Maharat rabbinical schools. He is a co-founder of the International Rabbinic Fellowship and longtime Jewish activist for Israel and human rights.
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