Protests and Unrest in Israel
The current unrest in Israel is not about the state of its democracy or the role of its judiciary. As many analysts have correctly surmised, the tensions are over the direction and soul of the country. The modern state of Israel was founded by secular Zionism, which established a secular Jewish state while offering certain privileges as a nod to their religious brethren.
Over the years, attrition among secular Zionists and the expanding birthrate among religious Jews shifted the tide. The religious population is growing, and the country’s culture is in flux. For the first time, Israel’s government is entirely populated by religious parties. This is a seismic shift that has sent shockwaves across the country.
The question before the country today, as Liel Leibovitz put it so eloquently, is it a Jewish country or a country for Jews? Modern Israel was established as a country for Jews but is now shifting to a Jewish country. This does not sit well with those who have enjoyed the status quo, hence the unrest in Israel.
Many analysts are making dire predictions. They claim that Israel has to make a difficult choice and that either decision will not go over well with the other side. It is a question that they have managed to put off for decades, but the die has now been cast, and a decision must be reached.
This is where I disagree. I think Israel will weather this unrest as it has weathered many earlier crises. Does anyone remember what they said about the Jewish future after the Holocaust? Did anyone expect Jews to rise from the ashes and establish a country in their homeland? Did anyone imagine that Jews would reach historical heights of prosperity, power, and influence? Did anyone imagine Jewish observance would experience a brilliant renaissance and sweep the nation?
Journalists and pundits must justify their roles, and if they have nothing dramatic to say, they have not contributed to the conversation. But histrionics aside, we have weathered much worse crises in our time, and we will endure this one too. If we survived the Six-Day War, we could survive one another.
Why am I so confident? Because the Jewish people are unique, and even our enemies know it. If you make a surgical incision into the soul of a Jew, you will find rock-hard unity. The spark in me and the spark in you is the same spark. It is literally a portion of G-d, and there is only one G-d.
Even Haman knew this when he spoke to Achashverosh. He said to the king, “There is one nation scattered and separated among the nations.” Haman, make up your mind, are we one nation, or are we scattered and separated? This is precisely the question that pundits ask today. Are the demonstrators in Israel separated from their religious brethren? Are they scattered—assimilated—among the nations?
Haman’s answer is yes! They are indeed scattered and separated. They are indeed assimilated among the nations. But that doesn’t change their essential core. At our core, we are one.
The message is that Jews don’t need to live, eat, drink, or even think identically to be one nation. Other nations need to be of a common mind with a common purpose to be united. Jews are united because they are one. They can be scattered and separated and still be one.
The proof is in the putting. Should an enemy, G-d forbid, attack Israel, all Jews would close ranks and protect each other. The hetero and the gay, the secular and the religious, the right and the left, the Israeli and the foreigner, will transcend their scatteredness, and their truth will emerge—one nation that lives together. If they are willing to die for each other, they can live with each other. It is only because there is no crisis on our streets and borders that there is so much unrest in Israel. It looks like we are scattered, but in truth, we are one.
This, however, does not let us off the hook. The fact is that we are all responsible for the unrest in Israel. Both sides describe the other side as “others.” Both sides insist that they won’t let the “other” side control them. This must stop. We are not others; we are one. If this stops, the unrest in Israel will stop.
It did not begin today. It started many decades ago and has only festered since. In the early days of the Zionist movement, the left often persecuted their religious brethren. Religious Jews responded in kind.
However, of the two, I place the burden of unity on those who declare themselves observant Torah followers. If we follow the Torah, we must think of our fellow Jews as G-d does. When a Jew drives a car through a religious neighborhood, they are scorned with derision rather than embraced with love. They are greeted with anger for violating Shabbat in “our” neighborhood, among “our” children.
How have we come to this? When have certain Jewish people become “ours” while others are not? All Jews are “ours.” We are one people. When your brother violates the Torah’s sacred principles, don’t look to their actions; look to their soul. The soul of this Jew is crying. Their soul comes from the same sacred place as your soul. Your soul is not holier than theirs. It is just that their soul was born into environments that did not know better and did not teach better. This is not their fault.
If anything, they deserve more love than the Jews in “our” neighborhood. Theirs is a crying soul. Are we too busy studying Torah and praying to reach out and love our brother? When G-d gave us the Torah, He descended to earth and didn’t claim to be too busy with Heavenly concerns to worry about earthlings. If G-d made time and space for us, indeed, we can make time and space for our brothers!
Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi was studying late at night when he heard his grandson crying. He entered his son’s apartment and noticed that his son, immersed in study, did not hear the baby’s cries. The baby had fallen out of the crib and was lying on the floor. Rabbi Shneur Zalman tended to his grandchild and put him to bed. In the morning, he told his son, “One may never be so immersed in something holy that he can’t hear the sobs of a crying child.”
Forty-two years ago, the Lubavitcher Rebbe elaborated on this story. His words are perfectly relevant to the unrest in Israel today. When a Jew cries out that they don’t want to be forced to keep kosher or Shabbat, their soul has fallen. Not just from the crib to the floor but from the Heavenly heights into a terrible pit. We may never be too busy keeping Shabbat, raising money, or building schools for “our” children that we can’t hear the cry of a fallen soul—a Jew yearning for our love.
Can’t you hear what they are telling you? They are saying, stop forcing us to eat kosher or fast on Yom Kippur. Stop forcing us. Start loving and understanding us. We are one people with souls just like yours. Love us, don’t force us. Can we hear their cry? We must never be too involved in ourselves to hear the cry of a fallen soul that wants to be loved, needs to be embraced, and craves to be understood.
The Torah proclaims, “G-d will be sanctified among the Jewish people.” The Chassidic masters said we should not read it as “among” but “within.” If we peer within any Jew, we find it is sacred. We find a spark of G-d prepared to sanctify G-d—prepared to die for G-d and ready to live for G-d.
The Jews involved in the unrest in Israel today are willing to die for G-d. They are ready to die for you. In response, you must be ready to live with them. Your fellow Jew is sacred. What is in your soul is in their soul. We are one. Let’s act that way.