Oy — it’s that time again. We Jews have once again arrived at this niggly, perplexing point of the Jewish annual cycle called “the three weeks,” a period of mourning lying between two fast days. Its demands for sadness are right on time to spoil our summer fun; its insistence that we mourn two Temples razed by enemies thousands of years ago is challenging in various ways.
And right here, in the midst of these conflicting emotions, a delicate, fragile entity suddenly rears its head and whispers the biblical word Ayeka — where art thou?
This entity is none other than ahavat hinam, literally “love for no reason” (or “for naught”). Poised in quiet opposition to sinat hinam, the hatred for no reason that, tradition has it, destroyed the Second Temple, it translates in modern terms into “unity” or “solidarity” or simply, as per the original, “unconditional love.” Yet it is all much of a muchness; we know it when we see it. Actually accomplishing it, though, is another thing entirely.
Last summer, in the midst of living through a horrifying thriller worthy of a master suspense novelist — three hitchhiking teens abducted, a retaliatory gruesome murder, searching out terrorist cells, a debilitating war that left combatants, civilians and onlookers alike utterly drained and gave joy to none — in the midst of all this, a nation was transformed. Individuals and groups stepped forward to support, donate, pray, purchase and schlep supplies across many miles: in brief, to care about people normally irrelevant to them at best, or whom they actively disliked, at worst.
Suddenly, “love for no reason” took on solid flesh and blood. Legs, hands, mouths and minds extended selflessly and out of the comfort zone to the benefit of the other… I mean, of the “Other” — that member of Israeli society who is our political enemy, our nemesis, the one who is absolutely wrong and destroying this country, and whom we love to hate in our pubs, on our TV shows, and around our Sabbath tables.
There were some who, seeing this, were determined that this atypical state should not end with the cessation of war. The parents of the teens must abdicate their role as involuntary spokespeople for the nation, in order to enter their own private grief; but others, more seasoned, must take their place for the same cause.
Cut to the following scene: a few weeks ago, I attended a ceremony at the President’s House in Jerusalem, for a well-publicized “Unity Day”. Prizes were being awarded to individuals who had made outstanding contributions to unity. The brainchild of Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat and the Gesher organization, supported by President Rivlin, this was the attempt to prevent “love for no reason” from vanishing back into the ether of lip service and an occasional preacher’s dais.
Neither starry-eyed nor naïve, hard-boiled politicians with a soft heart, Barkat, Rivlin et al. were willing to stand up for a simple ideal. They noted with regret the dizzying fall from last summer’s unity to the ugly divisiveness of the elections, and called upon the audience not to let the unity dissipate and slip back into sectorialism and isolationism. “Unity is not homogeneity,” insisted Rivlin, a seasoned veteran of such uniting work. “We want not just a memorialization but an amplification,” announced Barkat. Unity, noted Rachelle Fraenkel, mother of murdered teen Naftali, is not only a matter of national security, it is a matter of national hope. “We have here a joint, good future together” — her words of encouragement to Israelis of all stripes, and not just Jewish.
The entire event had the feel of a wedding. People dressed in their finest pranced around the President’s lawn, munching vegetarian hors d’oeuvres on cocktail sticks. Rows of chairs were laid out neatly at the front, and a stage stood waiting. The only thing lacking was a bride and groom. In a sense, though, a wedding was the most apt metaphor for this occasion. In Carl Jung’s thought, the sexual ritual of the gods, hieros gamos, became the larger union of archetypal figures and the sacred marriage of opposites; in kabbalah, the union of the masculine and feminine godhead is the prototype for the union of all opposites. “Love for no reason” calls to that motion that seems to militate against basic human nature, namely, not to simply look out for number one, but to open up and embrace a different, difficult other. Such is marriage, and such is group solidarity. Both demand work, and both are infinitely rewarding and fruitful.
With all that we are enjoined to remember as Jews, it might be most worthwhile remembering this: that in a time of peace and not just of war, we can try to love that annoying, pigheaded person in the other camp just that tiny little bit more, even while disagreeing vehemently with her view.
Challenging, maybe; impossible, not at all. If we will it, it is no dream.