William Hamilton

Seeing more

“I am going to say something that I suspect both the left and the right would agree with” a good friend offered this week. “The golden age of Jewish unity around Israel is over.” While there was widespread disapproval of last Friday’s UN declaration that residing in less contested Jerusalem neighborhoods is a ‘flagrant violation of international law’, Secretary Kerry’s explication this week was greeted by a distinct lack of consensus.

It has been a rough week for the America-Israel rapport.  Two deep divides, often submerged have surfaced.  One separates across the ocean in the dramatically different neighborhoods in which we live.  Consider what is likely to occur over seventy years when five-six million Jews reside in two very different host societies.  One embraces them with love.  The other welcomes them with hate. The outcome will look like North American and Israel Jewry today.  The former, featuring many multi-faith homes, is universal and inclusive.  The latter, featuring many survivors of terror, is increasingly tribal and inwardly focused. 

A second divide is more local.  Both here in Israel and in North America the challenges to safety and morality intensify.  One side says ‘Don’t be naive”. The other says “Don’t be brutal”. As Yossi Klein Halevi expresses, each side fears that victory of the other side won’t merely weaken Israel, it will destroy it.  Sibling strife is not new and managing it effectively can be maddening. 

This week’s portion of Torah reminds us that we don’t see all there is to see. Joseph’s estranged brothers experience deep remorse for having mistreated him.  “And they said, each to his brother, ‘But we are guilty over our brother, because we saw his soul’s distress (tsarat nafsho) when he implored us and we didn’t listen. On account of that this distress (tsara) has come to us!’” (Gen. 42:21).  Shortly thereafter, “emptying their sacks, and here was each man’s bundle (tsaror) of silver in his sack, and they saw the bundles (tsrurot) of their silver, they and their father, and they were afraid” (Gen. 42:35). The Torah’s pun between tsara (trouble) and tsarar (bundle) conveys the subtlety of the recompense that is happening to them even though they cannot yet detect it. 

Consider a more spacious reading this week of what each Administration – aiming to be helpful – fails to see. The Obama Administration may not realize that it is conceding major positions that were to be negotiated, effectively creating new preconditions that disable Israel the next time they sit at the negotiating table.  The Netanyahu Administration, justifiably infuriated to be rewarding PA intransigence and incitement,  does not see how insulting US leaders makes Israel’s leadership look like obstacles to reason and liberty. 

Given how often we are wrong in our assumptions, we should strive to be more open to being shown what we do not see.   We were wrong about the President-elect’s chances to be viable as a candidate.  We were mistaken about whether Israel could enjoy prosperity without peace.  And a century of unremitting bloodshed has proven false the promise of the Enlightenment that being smarter would make us less violent.  This is not to diminish the worthiness of fierce conviction.  It is rather meant to ready it for its collision with history.

Joseph and his brothers do reunite.  Their wounds and suspicions remain raw.  But higher purposes they share and forgiving God they serve makes their ill-will manageable.

We might do well to avoid ‘always’ ‘never’ language.  There is probably somebody wise on the other side with something to teach you.  If you haven’t found them, you are not looking hard enough.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.