Have you ever hated someone for no reason at all?
Most people would say that when they feel hatred there is usually a good reason for it. And yet, the Talmud relates that the last Jewish state on this land fell due to שנאת חינם- baseless hatred.
The Second Temple period was rife with divisions within Jewish society. As the diversity of thought within the Jewish people turned into harsh enmity, a normal societal occurrence became a liability. With divergent values pulling in opposing directions, the various factions worked against one another, slowly but surely eroding the state to the point of implosion. Divided against one another and engaged in mutual sabotage, we stood no chance against the Romans. The hatred was hardly “baseless” though; by the end, each side knew exactly why they hated the other.
Much talk and speculation has gone on regarding what Gaza might look like after the war. But what of post-war Israel? Surely we know what we looked like before the war- a house divided upon itself coming dangerously close to the levels of the Second Temple period. For decades Israel maintained a status quo of a majority that was staunchly secular and left-wing. Evolving demographics slowly upended this, election after election ending in a stalemate until an ultimate hard-right swing left those who had previously held power feeling helpless and scared. And they fought back hard. Left vs right in a bitter battle over the legal system, religious vs. secular locking horns over gender segregation, separation of synagogue and state, and state funding of religious institutions. Charedi vs non-charedi in bitterness over army service and yeshiva stipends. We all had our righteous cause. And we were a mess. Growing hatred threatened to consume us once again, feeling far from baseless.
And then Hamas struck. It’s no secret that our division emboldened them. With airforce pilots threatening not to show up for duty, with reservists quitting in droves, with a tired, weak and distracted nation, it was the perfect opportunity for our enemies. But Hamas underestimated us. We were not yet too far gone and the enormity of the attack- along with a deep part of every one of us in pain over our division- drew us together like never before. ביחד ננצח- Together We Will Win became our new slogan as we all shifted our attention to our common ground feeling a mixture of determination and relief that we can once again work together.
And in this wartime experience we have the luxury of seeing the “baseless” nature of the hatred. Because at the end of the day our differences don’t matter nearly as much as our commonality. Families can fight, even fight bitterly, but you only have one family. Life and our connectedness is bigger than the details of our varied ideologies.
But those divisions haven’t gone away. They are still there, hovering beneath the surface and waiting to re-emerge. We’ve caught glimpses of them in the discussion surrounding hostages and in heated Knesset debates. Forget Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah. Our baseless hatred is our biggest existential threat.
And so what should a post-war Israel look like?
It should look like an Israel that has learned the lessons of disastrous division. A place where we realize that as much as our differences are real and valid, we actually need one another.
Chilonim need charedim to serve as their their rootedness in Judaism. In aiming for the balance of a state that is Jewish and Democratic, Charedim ground us in the “Jewish” by serving as an anchor and archetype of religious faith and observance.
Charedim need chilonim to serve as a beacon to the modern world. Chilonim are the archetype of engagement with the world, of material progress and new ideas. As much as charedim eschew these values on the surface, the existence of these values is an important counterweight to maintain balance. Chilonim are the builders and managers of the state and the “democratic” anchor of the Jewish and democratic balance.
Both Charedim and Chilonim need the dati leumi world as example of the varieties of balance and integration of their two worlds, and the dati leumi need the charedim and chilonim as counterweights on which to base each persons’ unique balance of religion and modernity.
The left wing needs the right wing as a reminder that we aren’t just another Western country. We are a people on a mission in their land and forgetting this fact is dangerous in this part of the world. Without nationalism there is no nation.
The right wing needs the left wing to temper its nationalism and prevent it from becoming radical. They need the left to anchor them to the dream of peace and show what it means to be a citizen of the world.
Vatikim need olim to help expand their perspectives, practices, and cultures. Olim are needed to introduce new ideas and methods, new talents, and to question the old ways. Olim need vatikim to teach them how to live in the Middle East without being eaten alive.
Jews need our Arab and non-Jewish citizens to keep us from closing ourselves in a bubble and to remember to be considerate of others. To remind us that ultimately we are all made in the image of god and all are joined in a common fate. Arab and non-Jewish citizens need the Jews because otherwise this would be just another monolithic Middle Eastern country. Israel’s strength and significance comes from its being the world’s only Jewish state and standing out from the rest of the middle east.
Unity does not mean that we all agree. Differences will never go away in society. But differences don’t need to lead to baseless hatred. Unity means LISTENING attentively and UNDERSTANDING one another out of recognition that we need each other. When we allow others to feel heard and understood they are less fearful of us and more open to listening and understanding us in return. When we all feel understood we are able to make room for the needs of the other. And when we are able to make room for the needs of another group, we can grow stronger and more effective. And maybe then we can even create real peace with our neighbors.
Tomorrow’s Israel is one in which we listen to one another rather than shout over one another and where baseless hatred is replaced by baseless love.
ביחד ננצח. עם ישראל חי.
B’yachad Nenatzeach. Am yisrael chai.