The Times of Israel published my new article “Tackling the Question of Jewish Identity After the Jersey City Shooting”
The eternal discussion of who is a Jew recently became revamped when the attacker of the recent deadly shooting at a Jewish supermarket in Jersey City was found to be connected to the Black Hebrew Israelites.
Who Is a Jew?
If we examine Israel’s original sources, we find that Jews are a nation unlike other nations. That is, the Jewish people share no biological roots, but rather emerged from unifying based on a spiritual idea: the need to love and unite above all differences. The first instance of this unification was around 3,800 years ago in ancient Babylon where Abraham the Patriarch guided diverse groups of people to achieve such unity.
It means that if Jews unite based on this spiritual idea, and organize themselves under the supreme value “love your neighbor as yourself,” then they can be considered as a nation. Likewise, there is no basis for them to be called a nation if they make no effort to connect above the inborn selfish human nature.
When the group gathered by Abraham aspired to unite, they discovered that they hated each other, and upon the hatred, without eliminating it, learned how to love. In other words, unification was only achieved through the principle, “love will cover all transgressions.”
Why Does Hatred Appear When We Try to Come Closer to Each Other?
As in any natural system, interaction of opposites vitalizes and sustains the system. For instance, we cannot have day without night, left without right, and positive without negative. Unity is achieved through balance between the opposite forces. Therefore, when we take steps toward unification, we need not erase the hatred that surfaces, but instead, rise above it.
Mutual complementarity is key to the process of uniting. It is less like a young couple who quarrel out of unfamiliarity and relax, and more like a mature couple who have lived together for many years, who recognize each other’s weaknesses and know how to complement their differences of opinion. Therefore, similar to the balance between spouses, there should be balance between various factions of the nation, and between all nations of the world, as is written in Likutey Halachot (Assorted Rules): “The essence of life and existence, and correction of all of creation is in people of different opinions integrating together in love, unity and peace.”
Why Is There Growing Pressure on the Jewish People Today?
Today, there is growing pressure upon us to realize our role: to unite and spread love and peace to humanity, i.e., to be a “light unto the nations.” If we fail to repair our connections and reach the balance in question, we prevent the positive unifying force from flowing to the rest of the world. And when we block the positive force from reaching other people, negativity flares up specifically toward us in the form of anti-Semitism. Such hatred can lead to outbursts of violence, as we saw in the horrific murders in Jersey City, and in many other Jewish-targeted shootings, stabbings, crimes and threats.
As for defining who is a Jew, the Hebrew word for “Jew” (Yechudi) derives from the word for “unity” (yichud). By uniting, Jews attract the positive unifying force dwelling in nature, the force that is necessary for rising above hatred and achieving balanced relations.
Therefore, the remedy that can protect us from trouble is the power of unity. It is as Rabbi Kalman Kalonymus wrote in Maor vaShemesh (Light and Sun), that “when there are love, unity and friendship between each other in Israel, no calamity can come upon them.”
Similarly, the ADMOR of Gur, stressed in Sefat Emet (True Tongue): “Israel’s unity induces great salvations and removes all the slanderers.”
By rekindling the unification we cultivated centuries ago, and sharing Abraham’s method of connection with everyone, we can guarantee a happy and peaceful life for everyone in the world. It is my hope that we can realize this method sooner rather than later, as by learning how to positively connect above hatred, we will spare much suffering to ourselves and to the entirety of humanity.