To the State of Israel and all its inhabitants,
You approach your 75th birthday and these are difficult days. Our political reality has filled the air with distrust and harshness. At its best, politics is the intermingling of competing ideas for the benefit of the public. Voicing opinions and argumentation are central to this process, but the conversation often turns divisive and bitter. We would do well to guard our tongues and offer a kind eye to each other. As Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, the Chafetz Chayim, teaches, it was our speech that led to the destruction of the Temple and our exile. Even if we disapprove of the opinions or actions of our fellow Israelis, we need to be careful how we speak to and treat them.
In Exodus 22: 19-20 we read: “Whoever sacrifices to a god other than God alone shall be proscribed. You shall not wrong or oppress a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Professor Nahum Sarna argues that the placement of these verses is intentional and informative. The first prohibits idolatry, whereas the second relates to the treatment of gerim, who, according to the simple reading, are foreigners. The Torah prohibits certain religious
practices and still teaches that these do not impact the non-Jew’s inalienable right to “civilized treatment free of victimization”, as Sarna writes. By this account, Jews are commanded to love one whose actions are diametrically opposed with the spiritual and theological plan of the Torah. All the more so for our political rivals.
Differences do not warrant hatred or violence. We might find it easy to say “well, the Torah’s lessons don’t count here,” or “it doesn’t include them.” But it is not to our benefit to search out exemptions. The Chafetz Chayim taught that we were exiled because of our harsh speech, but more importantly our redemption will not come until we fix it.
Our vision of redemption; or hopes for democracy, the State of Israel, or our neighbor are served best when we guard our tongues and when we can look kindly upon and find love for our fellow Israelis.
Rabbi Danny Weininger is one of the founders of the ‘Kolot’ Minyan in Katamonim neighborhood Jerusalem. He and his wife Shani live nearby.