Strength from Love
As we mourn the Bais HaMikdash destroyed because of sinas chinam, it is appropriate to consider its opposite, the mitzvah of v'ahavta l'reicha k'mocha, which Rabi Akiva describes as the "great principle of the Torah." What is the source of the unique quality of this mitzvah?
The Alshich writes that when Jews are united in this world that, in turn, brings unity in the Upper Realms. That unity, reflecting Hashem's essence, is the goal of Creation. The unity of the Jewish people was the condition for the revelation at Sinai of Torah, the blueprint for Creation.
The basis for Jewish unity is the existence of a collective Jewish soul. Love of our fellow Jews grows from recognition of our roots in that common collective soul. Thus Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz considered his entry ticket to Gan Eden to be that "I loved every single Jew," observant or non-observant.
Ahavas Yisrael minimally requires that we worry about the well-being of every single Jew. The many tefillos added whenever Israel is at war are one manifestation. Beyond that, we are required to do everything we can to ensure the physical well-being and security of our fellow Jews. The vast and varied number of chareidi chesed organizations, especially in the health field, attest to that commitment.
But what about ongoing relationships with Jews who are not mitzvah observant. Will they have an adverse impact on us or our homes? Would a real friendship be perceived as our condonation of a life not guided by Torah, and turn mitzvah observance into nothing more than a lifestyle choice? Will we become desensitized to what is at stake when a Jew does not fulfill Hashem's Will?
Such questions are becoming more common as observant Jews find themselves thrust to an ever greater degree into ongoing relationships with non-religious Jews, particularly in the workplace. Is the best course to treat one's co-workers pleasantly and with respect, but to avoid any real friendship? Or is even friendship – obviously with co-workers of the same gender – a desideratum to be pursued?
These are not easy questions. Nor I suspect will there be one answer for each religious Jew or in every situation.
In the context of learning Torah with non-observant Jews, the gedolei Yisrael have been highly supportive, even where the non-observant Jew expresses no desire to become religious. The power of Torah is such that it will always have an impact.
And I know personally that the gedolim have permitted ongoing, open discussions between veteran journalists across the religious divide. Such meetings have led to real changes in the way that our community is portrayed in the media.
But what about meetings that don't involve Torah texts, and where the goal is simply to break down stereotypes about Jews whose lives center around Hashem's commandments (as well as stereotypes about those described as chiloni) or just to lower levels of animosity between different groups in Israeli society? The filmmaking group of religious and non-religious women described recently by Leah Gebber in these pages would be an example. Are reduced tensions and breaking stereotypes independent values apart from kiruv?
In truth, that distinction may be more theoretical than practical. For no real kiruv can take place if the not-yet-observant Jew does not feel we genuinely care for him or her as a person and find what to admire about him or her – i.e., that they are more than a haichi timza (instrument) of our kiruv ambitions. And there is a positive mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem that our conduct should always be such that others admire us and the Torah that shapes us, whether they become observant or not.
In general, I think – and the switch to the first person pronoun should be taken as an indication of the tentative nature of what follows – that the time may be ripe for adopting a much more optimistic attitude about contact with non-observant Jews. We no longer live in the early years of the state of Israel, when Zionism had created a state and seemed to be the wave of the future.
And I would hope that no regular reader of this column feels that we have much to envy in the society around us, whether in Israel or chutz l'aretz, however much there may be to admire about individual members of that society. The world without Torah is rushing headlong towards a moral and intellectual incoherence.
In a world in which contact with the outside world is increasingly unavoidable, a confident, optimistic attitude towards contact with non-religious Jews may be the best defense for us and our children. Rabbi Yitzchok Berkovits makes that point on a Project Inspire video. He begins by noting that there is no way of totally insulating our children today. As soon as they step out the door, pernicious influences are everywhere. But when our children see us actively engaged in reaching out to Jews from non-religious backgrounds, rather than retreating in fear, we teach them that "there are answers, that these Jews are lacking what we have. That prevents them from thinking that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. . . . [Y]ou are actually inoculating your children to the dangers of the outside world."
The Gulag Comes to Campus
Richard Sherman, the Seattle Seahawk's all-pro cornerback, doesn't think too much of Black Lives Matter. Last September, he spoke about growing up in the ghetto, and losing his best friend as a teenager. His friend, however, was not killed by a policeman, but by two 35-year-old black men. "If black lives matter, they should all matter all the time," said Sherman, and not just when a cop is involved. He called for the black community to internally address black-on-black crime first.
Nor did he back down when subjected to BLM's familiar intimidation. "I stand by what I said that all lives matter, and that we are all human beings. [Just as] I want African and Americans and everybody else treated like human beings. I also want police treated like human beings. I don't want police officers getting knocked off in the street who haven't done anything wrong."
Sherman first spoke out in response to a BLM activist named King Noble, who posted a photo of Sherman and teammate Marshawn Lynch over the caption: "When we gonna kill these KKKrackas, Bro." In an accompanying video, Noble proclaimed "open season on killing white people," and predicted that "we will witness more executions and killing of white people and cops than ever before."
In confronting BLM, Sherman showed more courage than any Democratic politician this election season, and he apparently lived to tell the story. Certainly he fared better than Rohini Sethi, Student Government Vice-President at the University of Houston, who tweeted after the gunning down of five Dallas policemen, "Forget #Black Lives Matter; more like #All Lives Matter." The furies were promptly released upon her.
The Student Government Senate conferred on its president Shane Smith unilateral power to determine Sethi's punishment for her heinous crime. Smith quickly discovered that being a tyrant wielding absolute power can be fun. He explained to the Washington Post why Sethi must be made an example of: "Her post and subsequent actions were very divisive. . . . It caused some in our student body to become very upset with her . . . because they felt she did not understand or respect the struggles of their lives."
Besides suspending Sethi from her post, Shane sentenced her to a thorough-going re-education reminiscent of the Mao's Cultural Revolution or Pol Pot's Cambodia. She is required to attend a Libra Project diversity workshop, whose curriculum is a laundry list of victimology. In addition, she must attend three cultural events each month and write a letter of "reflection," presumably to demonstrate that her mind is now free of whatever demons possessed her to tweet in the first place. Failure to comply would result in her impeachment.
Even before her sentence was pronounced, Sethi had already written an abject apology reminiscent of the confessions at the 1937 Moscow show trials. She had been elected, she wrote, "to represent the voice of every single one of you," and she confessed that she had failed "to act as your vice-president" by responding in her "flawed way" to the murder of the Dallas policemen. She did, however, naively continue to express the belief that "we are all human . . . thus all lives matter." Perhaps, that was her subsequent crime in Smith's eyes.
Sethi was thus forced to recant for the mildest possible dissent from the slogan of BLM, which is itself a second-generation race hustle. BLM was born in fraud: The slogan chanted in Ferguson two summers ago – "Hands Up Don't Shoot" – was a flat out lie about how Michael Brown was shot. Even the highly politicized Obama Justice Department agreed with that. It is no surprise that several of the BLM leaders have been convicted of fraud.
The skyrocketing homicide rates in inner cities across America are directly attributable to police withdrawal in the face of hostility stirred by BLM – the "Ferguson effect" documented by Heather Macdonald. And as the King Noble video described above makes clear, the group's anti-police rhetoric occasionally boils over into straight incitement to murder. The BLM platform is comprised of a long list of reparation demands. In short, BLM is an organization from the far left of the political spectrum – not one that should be sacrosant and above the mildest word of criticism on a 40,000 student campus.
The "unity" that Sethi says she wants to reach through conversation is an illusion, as is the idea that she or any other politician can represent the voice of "every single" student. Only in totalitarian societies do politicians win 100% of the vote, and only in such societies do all citizens think, or pretend to think, the same. One of the reasons for the bitter divides in American society today, Yuval Levin points out in The Fractured Republic, is that the federal government seeks to resolve once and for all too many arguments that are inherently incapable of resolution and should never have been started.
Rohini Sethi's fate at the University of Houston should chill us all. For it demonstrates how effortlessly the progressive mindset slips into totalitarian mind control, and how little understanding and respect America's young have for the moral autonomy of the individual. In the past totalitarian regimes always came to power through force. In the future, we may simply slip into the totalitarianism through failure to attend to the warning signs along the way.