“It is a tree of life for those who hold fast to it, and all its supporters are happy. Its ways are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace.” (Proverbs 3:18)
As U.S. flags fly at half-staff for three days following the horrific Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh—the killing of 11 people and the injuring of six others by a gunman wanting nothing less than to eradicate all Jews—it is time to unite above our differences and bow our heads not only for the victims’ families and friends, but to contemplate on why such a heinous anti-Semitic hate crime took place, and what we can do to prevent future attacks.
While the ADL called the shooting “likely the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States,” hate crimes in general were recorded as being the highest in over a decade in 2017, with a 12 percent increase in the U.S. Moreover, Jews accounted for around 54 percent of those hate crimes, despite being just 2 percent of the U.S. population. Therefore, while we unite and pray for the victims’ families and friends, we need to understand that we are reacting to a symptom of an intensifying problem.
The Tree of Life Is for Those Who Hold Fast to It…
In order to solve the problem at its root and not wait for mass shootings and other crises to temporarily unite us, we need to recognize the unity of the Jewish people as a force capable of solving anti-Semitism. When the Jewish people unite above their differences, love covers hatred, peace covers conflict, happiness covers all the emptiness in the world and, as if miraculously, from within, people feel a new kind of fulfillment in their lives. And when people are fulfilled, thoughts to eliminate an entire race stop popping up into their minds. How does this all work?
How Is the Unity of the Jewish People a Solution to Anti-Semitism?
Historically, Jews are a living testament of resilience. Throughout history we have been persecuted by Romans, the Spanish Inquisition, the Russian Empire of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and, of course, Hitler…and yet we have survived. Modern-day challenges will also not destroy us unless we sit passively by and fail to use this event in Pittsburgh as a wake-up call. To answer the call and make sure that such slaughter of Jews never happens again, we first need to understand who we are, why we are here and what is our role and purpose on this planet. Only then will we be able to comprehend why we go through so many tribulations and struggles, and only then can we discover how to change to a positive course.
The originators of our nation came from different tribes all over Babylon and the Near East. The only thing that held them together was their belief that Abraham’s tenet of mercy and love of others was the right way to live. It transcended all other values and considerations, and so they followed him.
We were established as a Jewish nation at the foot of Mount Sinai when all our members committed to unite “as one man with one heart.” Immediately afterward, we were commanded to be “a light unto nations,” namely to spread the light of unity throughout the world. That is what makes us unique. Since we once experienced brotherly love, we have the ability to once again unite above differences and set an example to others who so desperately need such guidance.
Rav Kook summed up the role of the Jewish people as follows:
“The purpose of Israel is to unite the world into a single family.
As long as we maintain our unity, we thrive and remain safe. When we abandon it, the world regards us as a negative influence and anti-Semitic manifestations resurface with a vengeance, as evidenced in the Tree of Life synagogue attack.
When our enemies strike they do not ask what denomination we belong to, or what our origin is, or whether we are right wing or left wing. They simply strike out against us, convinced that the world’s problems will be solved by erasing Jews off the face of the planet. These overriding forces of anti-Semitism constantly resurface in different ways to compel us to unite as we become increasingly distant from implementing our role of being “a light unto nations.”
How We Can Turn This Around
Instead of exemplifying unity, we radiate divisiveness to the rest of the world. In such a state, the world will always find reasons to hate us and feel justified in trying to destroy us. The point upon which our prosperity depends was succinctly expressed by Samuel David Luzzatto:
“The success of our nation depends only on our brotherly love, on connecting to one another as members of a single family.”
It is my hope that we will use the choice we have in our hands to lead the world from darkness to light, chaos to unity, by rising above our differences. We don’t need to agree on everything, but we do have to connect our hearts above all that separates us.
It is said in Shem MiShmuel:
“When Israel are ‘as one man with one heart,’ they are as a fortified wall against the forces of evil.”
By uniting, we will be empowered to firmly take root as a nation, realizing among each other and spreading to others the happiness, pleasantness and peace contained in the words: “It is a tree of life for those who hold fast to it, and all its supporters are happy. Its ways are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace” (Proverbs 3:18).
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