Possibly one of the most famous protest songs is Imagine in which John Lennon, the former Beatle, describes a utopian world of absolute harmony. Personally, and I’ve shared this with you before, I really do not like the song. The tune is alright, it is the words that trouble me. Aside from the fact that he imagines a world with no religion, Lennon describes a world in which there are no differences at all; a world with no countries and nothing to die for.
Lennon’s “dream” shares a fundamental belief with many religions and ideologies, namely, that in their vision of an end of days, everyone will be the same. If you merit or survive until the end, everyone will either be of the same socioeconomic status (Marxism) or of the same beliefs (Christianity, Islam). While Judaism does believe in an end of days, this universal sameness is rejected. In Judaism’s vision of the Messianic Era, there will still be Jews and those who are not Jews. Even within the Jewish People, there will continue to exist a distinction between the varying tribes.
To better understand the philosophy behind our unique vision, allow me to share with you a simple anecdote. Not too long after Hindy and I got married, a gentleman blessed us that we never get into any disagreements. A very wise rabbi standing nearby overhead this and stepped in to say that this was a terrible blessing. He explained that it is in disagreeing, when each party shares a view unnatural to the other, that the real growth takes place. One’s worldview can only expand when it comes not contact with another, and one is forced to grapple with that differing view. Disagreement is the friction that ignites a fire, in this case the fire of a passionate love and the light of self-development.
This week’s parsha speaks to the idea of peace in numerous places. The Talmud, commenting on the ceremony of the Sotah states, “Great is peace! For God allows His Name to be erased to maintain peace between two parties.” And further in the Parsha we have the priestly blessings that climax with the blessing of peace. It is important though to recognize that peace does not mean sameness. Sameness is a diminishment of our unique reflection of God’s image. Rather, peace is the harmony found in different voices clashing with one another with deep respect.
Earlier this week, I had sent you a personal reflection on the national protests which I had also posted to my personal Facebook page. Over the course of the week, as to be expected, strong questions were posed and different viewpoints were shared by members of our shul on my Facebook post. A friend of mine, not a member of our community, who was observing these online discussions reached out to me and said, “I have never seen something like this!” I had no idea what he was talking about.
He explained: “As we speak, all around the world people are fighting vehemently over different ideals and values. Conversations escalate within a matter of seconds into personal attacks or worse. In the entire thread on your post, and there were many strong emotions expressed, nonetheless the members of Ner Tamid maintained respect for one another and engaged in serious and thoughtful dialogue.”
Isn’t that amazing? I’m fairly confident that we are one of the most diverse shuls around. We consist of a wide variety of ages, ethnicities, backgrounds, and certainly the spectrum of political views. And yet, we all talk to one another. Yes, the arguments in the pews may get heated, but at the end of the day (or service), we all go out into the social hall and join one another for some hot kugel! It is not something to take for granted!
It is a challenging time as individuals and a frightening time for our country. We need to grapple with questions of great magnitude. But for a quick moment, I hope you can join me in appreciating what we have here in our special community; a model of what peace should look like. I hope that we can serve as a model for others in healthy dialogue and in promoting the great value of peace.
Wishing you a peaceful Shabbos and looking forward to when we could debate in person once again!