Judaism is a complex blend of particularism and universalism. As a Religious Zionist leader, committed to Israel as a Jewish democratic state, I felt it important to learn directly from the Palestinians with whom we share living in the Land of Israel — to broaden my understanding of the land so central to my passionate and religious concern. Encounter created this opportunity.
I want to share a message of Torah by opening with a correspondence that I had with a Palestinian leader I met on my trip. After the attacks in Itamar, I exchanged emails with Sam Bahour, a Palestinian American businessman living in Ramallah. We did not always agree, but the dialogue was conducted in a spirit of mutual listening and respect. I wanted to know his response to the massacre. His response captured the danger of demonizing an entire population, the importance of seeing our so-called enemies person-by-person and one-by-one. He wrote me that when in 2004–5 the Israeli Defense Forces was bombing Ramallah with F-16s during the second Intifada, he told his young daughters that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was piloting each bomber plane flying over their heads. It was the only way he could think of to convince them that this was not being done by “Jews” or “Israelis”, but rather one individual political/military figure who was responsible. He wanted to teach them to direct their anger at one man and one man only; he refused to allow his daughters to perceive all Israelis as war-mongering and violent.
This message is especially relevant today, on Yom Haatzmaut, Israel Independence Day, preceded yesterday by Yom Hazikaron, Remembrance Day, commemorating those who fell in the wars fought to create and maintain the state of Israel. How are we guided by our Sages to celebrate military victory and Israel’s Independence? What is the Jewish attitude toward our adversaries in a time of war and loss on both sides?
After the splitting of the Red Sea and the drowning of the Egyptian soldiers Moses and the Israelites sang Az Yashir, a song of celebration. According to the Talmud, the angels want to sing as well, but G-d stopped them. “My creatures are drowning and you want to sing.” G-d teaches His children to affirm the humanity and dignity of our adversaries, even in the face of violence and war.
Our foundational Biblical story of being freed from slavery sensitizes us to the humanity, dignity and suffering of all other human beings. In the context of war and grief, our foundational commitment is most tested and stretched. Many of us begin to reduce the world’s complexity to black-and-white terms. But to do so is to forget G-d’s message that all humans are His creatures. Encounter forced me to confront the humanity of those who had been “other”- to internalize their humanity emotionally. This is perhaps one of the greatest expressions of this core message of our Torah.
Click here to see a video of the speech.