There's got to be a better way to get along
After all the religious-secular mudslinging during this election, where does that leave us as a nation? There’s got to be a better way to get along
"Just a week to go, and it’s over,” said my political activist friend, with audible relief.
“The elections, of course!”
“I don’t think it’ll be over in a week.”
“Why not? At 10 p.m. next Tuesday, the polls close. We activists can finally go home. Some of us will be happy when the votes are counted up, and some of us will be very disappointed. But that’ll be it — the game will be over until the next round, whenever that happens.”
“When I say it’s not over, I mean all the damage that’s so hard to repair. I’m talking about the hatred that’s been sown into the public’s heart by the toxic anti-chareidi propaganda of politicians like Yair Lapid and Avigdor Lieberman. Do you think that hatred is just going to melt away once the polls close? Yes, I know there has also been chareidi propaganda against other political parties, and I don’t consider it a source of pride. But the incitement against us has gone beyond all propriety. Do you really think that everyone will calmly go back to business as usual? Well, I have news for you. The tension between us and the chilonim has only gotten worse, and who knows what it might lead to…”
“Oy, you’re exaggerating. I agree with what you say about Lapid and Lieberman — their anti-Semitic campaigns were disgusting as well as stupid and groundless. But that’s why I think they didn’t make much of an impression. Even among their own crowd, people aren’t buying the narrative that the chareidim want to take over the government, impose a halachic regime, destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque and build the Beis Hamikdash, and that they steal all the money for the yeshivos. The majority of the Israeli public isn’t stupid, and they know that all that rhetoric is just political fodder.”
“But they want to destroy the Jewish character of the state, don’t they? They want public transportation on Shabbos, don’t they? They want stores open on Shabbos, don’t they?”
“Yes, but that doesn’t mean they hate Judaism or hate us. It just means that they don’t want to be limited by religious laws. All right, there are pockets in the population that are virulently anti-religious. But in general, Israelis are traditional. They think of themselves as Jews, and Judaism is their religion, even if they don’t learn and don’t practice it very much. Surveys have shown that most Israelis, religious or not, buy kosher meat. They light Shabbos candles and make Kiddush Friday night, even if they turn on the TV after dinner.”
“Exactly! You see, we have a nation that basically embraces Jewish tradition, and Lieberman’s hateful rhetoric isn’t getting the sympathetic response he hopes for. And that’s why there was no need to fight fire with fire as some of the chareidi politicians did. They didn’t have to descend to his level.”
“Why not? ‘Answer a fool according to his folly.’ ”
“That’s fine, if the fool is going to get the point, but not if he’s going to turn the criticism around and use it for his own benefit. All it does is escalate the tension and cause the haters to get more deeply entrenched in their antipathy toward Judaism. What are we gaining by drawing out more and more negativity from the haters?”
“So what do you suggest? That we keep silent in the face of all those insults and disinformation?”
“Not exactly. But I believe there’s an alternative. Instead of fighting fire with fire, there’s a strategy that could cool down the fire or even extinguish it. First of all, we need to have faith in the traditional Jewish spirit that is still alive and well in most Israelis. You see, those masters of hate have succeeded in making our community hate them as well. But I’ve been thinking about a truly winning strategy that has nothing to do with the elections or the mutual mudslinging. If only enough of us would try it, it could turn everything around. Are you listening?”
“Okay, I’m listening.”
“The pasuk in Mishlei says, ‘As in water a face reflects a face, so is the heart of man to man.’ The Vilna Gaon and the Ohr HaChaim both explain how a person has the power to effect a change in another person’s heart by adjusting his own attitude toward that person. If I think hateful thoughts about Reuven, he will also dislike me, even if there’s no outward clash between us. Thoughts and feelings have real power. If I make the effort to find merit in Reuven and think positively about him, he will also start thinking better of me, even if we have no conversation about it. As the Ohr HaChaim puts it, ‘Our neshamos talk to each other.’ ”
“Okay, sounds good. But what does that have to do with chareidi and chiloni politics?”
“Everything. When our adversaries throw their bait at us, instead of swallowing it and letting it poison us with hatred, we can take a whole different approach. If we let Lapid’s and Lieberman’s rhetoric get into us and make us feel hatred toward the ordinary bare-headed man in the street, we’ve made a huge mistake.”
“I don’t see where you’re going with this.”
“Well, listen to this true story and then you’ll start to see what I mean: Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, the rav of Yerushalayim, was a big kanoi, and he once wrote a sharply worded rebuke against a certain kibbutz that was violating the basic principles of Judaism. The kibbutzniks were so offended that a group of their younger members showed up at the Rav’s house armed with clubs, demanding that he retract his words. One of them even pulled out a gun and threatened to shoot the Rav.
“He wasn’t intimidated, though. He simply lifted his tzitzis and said, ‘You can go ahead and kill me, but I won’t take back what I said.’ After a few moments of high tension, the kibbutzniks suddenly lowered their weapons, apologized, and left the house.
“The family members who witnessed the scene were convinced that they’d seen a miracle, but the Rav explained to them that in those moments of danger, he’d recalled the pasuk from Mishlei and the Gaon’s commentary on it, and he’d immediately started being melamed zechus on the kibbutzniks: It wasn’t their fault that they’d come to this sad state of kefirah. No one had taught them any Torah. And they did have the merit of being moser nefesh for yishuv Eretz Yisrael… and within a matter of seconds, the kibbutzniks began to take a different view of him. They started to consider his point of view and feel a measure of sympathy for his position. They left without hurting anyone. And this is just one example of the power of changing one’s attitude.”
“That’s a great story, but how can it make a difference in our case?”
“It can make a difference the very same way it made a difference for Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld. We can use the same strategy. Instead of swallowing the bait and letting its poison get into our blood, we can overcome the hatred by applying this idea of k’mayim hapanim l’panim. We can feel sympathy for all those people who get caught in the web of false propaganda and slander us. The strongest ammunition we have against a hostile sector of the public is to look at them with compassion and be melamed zechus on them. We need to believe that they are so much better than the propagandists who try to manipulate them with hatred — and we can counter-manipulate them with love. Do you see what I mean?”
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 777)
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