02 August 2019
We are approaching the saddest day of the year on the Jewish calendar. Tisha B’Av comes at the end of a three-week period of mourning and marks the date of several disasters in Jewish history, including the destruction of the First and Second Temples.
Some sages consider these tragedies to be the result of discord and senseless hatred among Jews. History has it that we were not able to muster counterattacks against our enemies because we were too busy fighting amongst ourselves. It is with this in mind, and in time for Tisha B’Av, that Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks recently posted an article called, “Seven Principles for Maintaining Jewish Peoplehood.”
Rabbi Sacks lists several qualities that would help us individually and collectively to be more compassionate listeners. As he describes, “The good news about the Jewish people is that we’re among the world’s best speakers. The bad news is that we’re among the world’s worst listeners.”
He also urges us to seek understanding instead of victory when speaking with one another. “Don’t think in terms of victory and defeat. Think in terms of what is best for the Jewish people.”
Indeed, Rabbi Sack’s Seven Principles are important reminders about how we can elevate care and comradery above distrust and division. In reading through his list, however, I found myself wanting to add one more recommendation: to act on what we learn.
We—as Jews, neighbors, fellow citizens, and so on—must seek to understand and respect one another. But I believe it is not enough simply to listen and to learn. It is also essential that we act on the ideas and values we hold dear.
Our actions in the community and in the world may create more divisions—but that is where the rest of the principles come into play. So long as we seek to understand and respect one another, we can continue to move forward as a community and pursue important change.
After all, the role of the Jewish people throughout history has been anything but passive. As Dr. Donniel Hartman described to our community during his visit earlier this year, the Jewish people have had a disproportionate impact on the world because we have always stood for something.
Senseless hatred may no longer plague the Jewish people as it did in the past, but it is still a formidable factor in our midst. All of us have a responsibility to counter destructive forces and actively contribute to shaping our communities for the better. No matter who we are, we must each find our own unique way to make an impact.
We are a diverse and multifaceted people. While some of our differences may pose challenges, they do not have to hinder us. Our varying perspectives and opinions can be a source of strength, so long as we do not let the bonds between us fray. Like Rabbi Sacks suggests, we have everything we need to come together to talk, to learn, and, hopefully, to act.