Every day I am bombarded with forwarded emails or WhatsApp messages that I generally ignore and erase. However, for some reason I decided to open one and was pleasantly surprised. It was a zoom session from Israel with a Holocaust survivor depicting the Nazi atrocities to a Muslim audience from numerous countries including Saudi Arabia. No doubt this is one of the positive outcomes of the recent Abraham Accords.
Inasmuch as I realize that overall, the Muslim acknowledgement of the Holocaust is still negligible, I am nonetheless encouraged by even minimal positive steps. Thus, it behooves the global Jewish community to find the means to up the ante and try to raise even more awareness. However, to erase years of distrust and mutual enmity requires a fundamental shift in the Muslim Jewish relationship. In Mishlei – Proverbs 27.19 – it states, “just as a face is accurately reflected by looking at it in a body of water, so too does the heart of one person reflect the heart of another.” King Solomon is using a metaphor to articulate that if we truly want to change how someone feels about us, we must first decide to alter how we feel about them.
To be quite honest, it’s extremely difficult to modify deep seeded feelings. I believe that for many Jews, it is culturally an anathema to seek commonality with the Arab and Muslim world. After countless wars against the fledgling nation of Israel and years of antisemitic bias vis-a-vis Israel, this sentiment is understandable. However, if we heed the words of Proverbs, then the cost of our indulgence may be too heavy a price to pay. If the Jewish community maintains its position, then we can’t be critical that the Muslim and Arab world will also continue with their preconceived negative attitude towards us. And ultimately, the only winner is the more radical Arab and Muslim countries.
I am not advocating for Israel to lay down their arms as a prerequisite for peaceful overtures. On the contrary, a powerful IDF is a significant incentive for making peace. Even when the Israelites left Egypt, they armed themselves to defend against the travails of their journey. Furthermore, Israel must be vigilant in confronting hostile regimes to ensure their venomous diatribes will not lead to a physical confrontation.
What I am advocating is first and foremost to see all humanity as creations of God. Great strides (not enough though) have been made in fostering a colorblind society. The inherent racial inequalities of our grandparents’ generation are slowly dissipating. However, religious intolerance is still festering. But as people who believe in Hashem, it’s mandatory for us to follow his example. The Talmud quotes a strange midrashic legend that claims that when the Egyptians were drowning at the sea the celestial angels began to sing praises to God. He swiftly quiets them by saying, “My creations are drowning in the sea, and you sing songs of praise?”
While this Midrash is difficult to understand literally, the metaphor is extremely powerful. The Egyptian army is finally decimated, and the Israelites’ joy is boundless. In the midst of their revelry, they sing praises to Hashem known as ‘az yashir.’ This is such a powerful illustration of the Israelites appreciation of God that the song is recorded in the Torah and recited daily in our morning prayers. Yet, the angels were prohibited from singing; they had no right to rejoice as they were not the direct beneficiaries of the Egyptian demise. As far as the angels were concerned, they should have realized the Egyptians were also created by God.
For me personally, it’s almost impossible to fathom the horrors of the Holocaust. More so, how the Nazis were able to systematically murder six million Jews while the average German citizen silently went on with their lives and profiting from our tragic demise. I can’t understand how the international world, albeit cognizant of what was taking place in Europe, ignored the plight of our brothers and sisters. The only possible explanation I can imagine is that the word failed in heeding God’s message to the angels. They failed to realize that all people regardless of race, religion, or color were created by the same God. And that whatever God one believes in, all humanity are his children.
As Jews, we can’t allow ourselves to fall prey to the same collective animus. We can’t see our status as God’s “chosen people” as a justification to denigrate others. Its purpose is merely to elevate us with a greater comprehension of what God expects from humanity. We were chosen to live up to a higher standard and to be spiritually imbued with a divine insight. We were chosen to be a moral light unto the nations and imbue them with the insight that we are all children of the same God. We were chosen because our ancestors experienced in Egypt what can happen when a subset of humanity are dehumanized. We were chosen to articulate at the Seder table that although once enslaved, we are now free. We were chosen to let the world know that God created all of humanity and all of God’s creations are equal. We were chosen because we are able to discern that being chosen is a responsibility not a luxury.