Jews around the world have come to the stark realization that the current threat to Israel's existence poses dangers to our personal realities and philosophies of life. Many people who, for whatever reason, did not realize that their fates and those of their children were inextricably bound up with events in the Middle East have recently experienced a rude awakening. As nations around the world weigh in with stark anti-Israel sentiment, and reflect glaring hypocrisy in their suggestions for dealing with terrorism, it is difficult to ignore the anti-Semitic overtones.
Many have struggled with the issue of how to relate to the current adult generation in countries that took ignoble roles in the Holocaust and have contended that these people should not be stereotyped by what their parents and grandparents did during the war. Yet now we see people who were not involved in the atrocities that were carried out against world Jewry in the 1930s and 1940s, either actively expressing hostile viewpoints or shockingly looking away from assaults and vandalism to which we had thought the Jewish people had become immune. How can the victim be told to forgive, when the cultures that led to so much suffering and death are allowed to continue to fester? In the words of one Federation official, reflecting upon the outpouring of Jewish financial support and participation in public demonstrations on behalf of Israel, "It's touching something that is deep within people. Their being is at stake."
Those Jews who are deeply familiar with their traditions have probably never allowed themselves to assume that all is well with the world and that peaceful Jewish existence is assured. We are constantly reminded by our yearly commemorations and our text study of the ebb and flow of Jewish history. We, of all peoples, are painfully yet realistically aware that difficulties and challenges are always with us, and that courage and resolve are required in order to proceed, let alone maintain our sanity. My first Chumash teacher, R. Moshe Besdin, ZaTzaL, used to characterize the Jewish saga as "spiritual Darwinism", i.e., the survival of the spiritually fit.
Even as we grant a major role to Hashgacha Pratit, Divine intervention in our personal, communal and national experience, we also recognize that living Jewishly is a partnership between HaShem and ourselves and that we are called upon to make major contributions and sacrifices. Those who lack the motivation and/or the fortitude for such an experience have dropped out in one way or another from time immemorial. It is tragic, but it is also understandable. The Jewish experience serves to temper us for toughness, if the rigors of the process do not become too destructive. But to glibly suggest that we all have to unceasingly call upon some superhuman internal fortitude to be able to cope with all that we have to deal with, is not to do justice to the emotional and physical toll that such a life demands. Not only must we summon up Chizuk, strength, from within, but we have to support one another and derive the necessary willpower and resolve from without as well.
What can we do to gird ourselves in order to deal with present and future challenges that we are likely to encounter in the coming days and years? I would suggest a three-tiered approach. Firstly, we must invest more time and energy in our personal religious experience. Faith contributes to optimism and hope. When we realize that we are not alone, that HaShem is somehow assuring that a positive resolution will come about at least for the Kellal, the collective, if not for the Perat, the individual, we can face our challenges with courage and confidence. Every opportunity that one has to enhance and expand one's prayer, Tora study, and Mitzva performance, offers the possibility for strengthening our relationship with the Divine. Even an interaction where we beseech and ask for answers to seemingly impossible questions, allows the lines of communication to remain open and provides for the possibility of developing a greater sense of personal connection with HaKadosh Baruch Huh, the Holy One, Blessed Be He.
Secondly, we must invest in our sense of community. Doing things with others can create more profoundly moving experiences than doing the same things alone. Tefilla Be'Tzibbur, prayer within the context of a congregation; Limud Tora BeChevruta/ BeTzavta, Tora study with a partner, if not in an energized Beit Midrash filled with people; performing commandments in fulfillment of the principle BeRov Am Hadrat Melech, the more people that participate, the more honor is thereby extended to the King, constitute strategies that are not only acknowledged as being more religiously efficacious but also have powerful psychological and emotional benefits. Just as we should feel that spiritually, HaShem provides us with companionship in times of duress, so too our friend, our fellow congregant, our communal colleague offer comfort and encouragement.
Finally, it is important to realize that we are part of a nation, in the spirit of Kol Yisrael Areivim Zeh LaZeh, all Jews are responsible and intertwined with one another. Times of crisis have a way of convincing so many to de-emphasize differences and focus upon the things that bind us. Divisiveness, whether in a family, a synagogue, a community, a nation only contributes to weakness and plays into the hands of those who oppose us. We should think twice about talking about or disagreeing with our fellow, and if we nevertheless feel we must, we need to do it without inflicting undue hurt and distress.
It has always seemed to me regrettable that crises often seem necessary in order to get people to realize what is truly important about life and relationships with others. Is it too utopian to assume that human nature could change to the extent that we could learn these lessons once and for all and not have to re-learn them throughout history? Or are these lessons best learned by personal experience? Since later generations cannot reach these realizations as acutely merely by studying the past, will they need their own watersheds of hardship to see if they can finally recognize how to make the most of the human experience? At any rate, we are currently experiencing such a time, and we should strive to respond in a most noble and spiritually meaningful manner.