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On Yom Kippur: One essence, one body

I might wish I had more beautiful, nicer relatives, but they are all still my own bone and flesh and blood
Religious Jews enter the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem on their way to the Western Wall on Yom Kippur. (Sliman Khader/Flash90)
Religious Jews enter the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem on their way to the Western Wall on Yom Kippur. (Sliman Khader/Flash90)

As we approach the eve of Yom Kippur in coronavirus times, we find ourselves in an atmosphere of divisiveness and mud-slinging among our people.

The following is an excerpt from Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz’s conversation that might awaken us to thoughts on baseless hatred as well as justified hatred:

By all accounts we are not yet in the days of Messiah; We are in the “Ikvata Demishicha” — the heels of Messiah, and we are trampled under these footprints, with all kinds of suffering and turmoil.

Out of all these problems and unrest, I would like to focus on one issue, which has to do with looking at the picture of the Jewish world as a whole.

Each of us can continue to sit in his little village or room and see only one corner of the world, but it seems to me worthwhile to look at the broad and comprehensive picture of the people of Israel – the people of Israel in Israel, USA, Jamaica, New Zealand and other parts of the world.

And when I look at this big picture, I see something that scares me.

Everyone who deals with Jewish history, as well as everyone who studies Gemara, is aware that the people of Israel have always had disagreements.

Disagreements are part of our internal culture, on two main sides:

First, we as human beings, as Jews, grow on the assumption that we are not a herd, but each one is a person in his own right, and therefore each person has the right and opportunity to express his opinion and disagree with others.

Second, our cultural world, as expressed in the Talmud, is a dialectic of the building that follows from demolition, the dialectic of a world built from the rifts and junctions that exist in reality, when – “from me and from him the name of God will be exalted.”

Another side of these controversies is that they are an expression of an array that is both mental and sociological.

The Jewish people cannot be defined as a people in the political sense of the term, nor as a religion, in the sense that we have no interest in doing missionary work in other peoples. If so, what are we? The most appropriate definition is that we are a family, “Beit Yaakov,” the Yaakov family. Families usually have fights; It is part of the dynamics of the family as a family.

I am allowed to beat my brother because he is my brother, or slap my sister because she is my sister.

But when a stranger tries to touch them, I will mobilize all my forces to protect them.

So it is with disputes between us: we can quarrel, slander each other, quarrel even to the point of bloodshed; But at the foundation of all this is a very deep common denominator, there is the unity point of the people of Israel.

The very fact that we are Jews has never been controversial; And so, in spite of all the controversies, we have always felt as one essence, as one body.

It now seems to me that for many Jews, both in Israel and abroad, this sense of unity is less and less present. Whatever the justifications, we are losing this simple feeling that no matter what happens, no matter what happens, we are still one family.

To me this is the same evil itself both in the extremists of Neturei Karta and in our extreme left. It is the same person going to the “depths of despair” whether he is bandaged in Shtreimel and whether or not he was even circumcised, he is my brother.

I might wish I had more beautiful, nicer relatives, but they are still my own bone and flesh and blood.

We can say that we, as a people are now suffering from a disease that belongs to the group of autoimmune diseases.

These diseases, which medical science often deals with today, are not caused by an attack by some external factor — a bacterium, a virus or a blow — but the body is the one that fights against itself, because it no longer knows itself.

A mysterious question is: How do I know that he is “I,” how does the body recognizes each and every part of it as “I.” There was a time when it was clear to a Jew.

Some Jews who are the skull on the head and others who are the tip of the nail, but both those on the nail and those on the skull who understood that they are immunologically the same thing, parts of one body.

There is a song in Yiddish that says:  “We will be what we are, but Jews we are.”

In such a situation we can and are allowed to quarrel, I am allowed to say about you that you are a bad Jew, and you are allowed to say about me that I am an even worse Jew, because we agree that we both belong , but as soon as a sense of alienation begins to spread. For one body,this is the greatest danger – to be other.

What can be done anyway? I myself write and talk about it as much as I can, which is much less than I would like.

But what is most important, in my opinion, is to educate, educate, educate; Educate the children, the offspring, to know that I am I, and even if I am what I will be and change as much as I change,  the collective I will still know to know our collective self.

Today, we teach Torah, mitzvot, love of God and reverence for God, but that is not enough.

One should at least convey the sense of who we are collectively, our point of collective ego.

When this “self” exists, it will continue to grow even as my private self, collapses. Because even the roots of a tree that has been cut down can grow a new tree.

We need to really invest in this, and invest more and more: among the children in kindergarten, the children in the yeshiva and the children in the army, and perhaps even the children elected to the Knesset – who will all remember only one thing: that a Jew is a Jew.

There is one prayer that to me is almost like a slogan:

“Keeper of Israel, save the remnant of Israel, and do not lose Israel who say hear Israel.” The Guardian of Israel keeps us, that we may all remain alike – with the quarrels, disputes and slaps in the face that I have already received and may yet receive; May all of us have this feeling of “he is our brother, our flesh .”

For as we see in the parashot that conclude the book of Genesis, the test point is the point at which we re-discover that in fact “12 we are, brethren of our father,” and for this we are willing to give our souls. Once you know that, everything else is much less important.

About the Author
Rabbi Meni Even-Israel, is the Executive Director of the Steinsaltz Center, a unique pedagogical accelerator that develops tools and programming that encourages creative engagement with the texts and makes the world of Jewish knowledge accessible to all.
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