There is little doubt that, as members of the national, American community, we are living through a period of great strife. Without even straying into the enormous social, economic, or security-based issues with which we now struggle, I feel it is safe to note that we must confront a challenging reality: Many in our society are too ready to assume the worst of those with whom they disagree politically.
In the wake of the November election and the recent inauguration, members of our community from all sides have been left facing a variety of seemingly (and, in some cases, genuinely) existential crises. A casualty in this rancor has been our ability—specifically, as Jews—to focus on something that is one of our core values. Namely, many Jews have become distant from the Jewish obligation to empathize with the “other” and to worry not just about oneself, but about his or her neighbors and fellows.
A place in the Bible from which I think we can take much helpful instruction in confronting this challenge comes from an unlikely place. Deuteronomy 22:1-4, which talks about our obligation to return lost livestock or property to our brethren, is rather striking in its biblical formulation:
|1 “You shall not see your brother’s ox or his sheep going astray and ignore them. You shall take them back to your brother. 2And if he does not live near you and you do not know who he is, you shall bring it home to your house, and it shall stay with you until your brother seeks it. Then you shall restore it to him. 3And you shall do the same with his donkey or with his garment, or with any lost thing of your brother’s, which he loses and you find; you may not ignore it. 4You shall not see your brother’s donkey or his ox fallen down by the way and ignore them. You shall help him to lift them up again.|
These verses are neither meant to be understood literally nor in a narrow, restrictive fashion. Instead, they constitute a strong metaphor for how one ought to interact with his or her fellow person. (And, interestingly enough, these verses are used for other humanitarian reasons: They are the locus classicus for the Jewish commandment to practice medicine.) It is worth drawing our attention to a significant detail in verse two from above: If one is not near his brother and/or does not know him, he still is obligated to help his brother.
This addresses what has become a more and more problematic (and more and more undeniable) aspect of the way many in our communities handle political and ideological differences: They isolate themselves from those with whom they disagree. However, the biblical notion that we find here is rather unambiguous. Whether or not we personally know those who are our “brothers,” we have an obligation to work with them and to help them. The logical necessity, of course, is that we must meet those with whom we disagree and get to know them.
As we move forward in this challenging climate, I hope we—certainly at least as a Temple community, if not as members of a larger Dayton and American mishpachah—can resist the urge to become distant from our fellows. Instead, let’s strive to get to know one another in the pursuit of knowledge of our common humanity; doing so will make us better people and better Jews. Likewise, doing so will set an example for our children of how to create a more ideal world.