Today, Jews worldwide are fasting and ushering in a three-week mourning period which will culminate with yet another day of fast; the fast of the Ninth of Av.
This period commemorates one of the darkest periods of Jewish history, in which the first and second Jerusalem Temples were destroyed, bringing havoc and exile to our people.
Our Talmudic Sages blamed these calamities on baseless hatred. In their words: “Why was the second Temple destroyed? Because the Jewish people were overcome with baseless hatred toward one another.”
Their lesson is clear: if we are to be redeemed, and if G-d’s light is to replace our world’s darkness, we must consistently engage in acts of unconditional love, and the commandment of “Love your Neighbor as yourself” ought to be restored as the “most important rule in the whole Torah,” as it is described by the legendary Talmudic scholar, Rabbi Akiva.
But how can we truly love? And what if we were harmed, or wronged, by others – can love still prevail?
The answer, perhaps, lies in the following three simple life-rules:
RULE ONE: We Never Know
When I was just 16 years old, I had an experience that changed my life. On a Tuesdayafternoon, as I was praying the afternoon prayers in an isolated Jerusalem synagogue, a man walked in with his four children. They were uncontrollable. They were running, screaming, and pushing each other, and I quickly began to judge the father. Can’t he control his children? He should have left them at home!
At the conclusion of the service, the man summoned his children, with five words that filled my conscience with guilt. “Let’s say Kaddish for Mommy,” he said to them. These children had just lost their mother and they were now saying Kaddish for her. My heart skipped a beat, but the lesson I learned stayed with me forever.
Indeed, we never know. We never know why people act the way they act. And it would behoove us to relegate this judgment to “the Judge of Our World” alone. For when it comes to the judgment of others, the only thing we can know for certain is… that we do not know.
RULE TWO: Re-Thinking ‘Likes,’ ‘Pokes,’ and Other Knee-Jerk Reactions
We live in an age in which many feel compelled to voice their reaction to every story under the sun.
The reasons for this phenomenon are many. Some feel empowered by having their voices heard. Others think that it is their social duty to respond to every message, lest their “friends” become offended by their silence.
They may be right. But I beg to disagree. Not every Facebook post is worthy of our likes, pokes, and comments. Not every Tweet is worthy of our re-tweet. And not every Snapchat and text are worthy of our response.
For in the race to speak back, we often forget to think. In the urge to reply, our swirl of emotions often eclipses our clarity of thought. And in the heat of disagreements, our minds often take the back seat.
In the wise words of the 18th century Sage, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Morgenstern: “All that is thought should not be said, all that is said should not be written, all that is written should not be published, and all that is published should not be read.”
RULE THREE: Disagreeing Without Being Disagreeable
It is no secret that we live in tumultuous and divisive times. Our status as “ONE” nation under G-d is menaced by increasing discords, of all sorts.
Yet, we ought to remember that the health and success of our future depends on one essential pillar: Respecting each other for who we are: people of all kinds, who were created in the image of G-d. We can disagree; but we must not become disagreeable. We can battle ideas; but we cannot battle people. We can frame the content of our conversation; but we cannot frame the inherent dignity of our fellow human beings.
A few years ago, my dear mentor, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, asked me: “What is the difference between a fool and a wise man?” After a short pause, he replied: “The difference is simple: a wise man keeps the important issues of life – important, and makes sure that the trivial issues remain trivial. The fool does the opposite. For him, important issues become the trivial ones, while he considers the trivial issues to be important.”
Similarly, we too must “make the important – important.” We all want to make the world a better place. We all care deeply about our communities and our country. We all try to nurture our families with morals, and values. These are the issues that ought to forever remain important.
And we ought to forever remain wise, and loving of every person, for the image of G-d that they are, and will always be.