Fatah 'symphony of love' tweet
Fatah 'symphony of love' tweetPalestinian Media Watch

Holy Brother.”

To the best of my knowledge, this hip salutation was coined by a famous American outreach rabbi, in the 60’s, as a means for touching the hearts of nearly-religious Jews. Slowly but surely, it included marginal Jews. Eventually it crossed broad religious and ethnic divides to encompass virtually everyone he’d encounter.

No longer would Akiva’s klal gadol, great principle, about the preeminence of the mitzvah of loving your religious companion, be enough. No longer would the Baal Shem Tov stories, about how shepherd boys and drunks could save the world through simple faith, suffice. No – unconditional human affinity was the enlightened way for the new age.

And not just any new age, mind you, but New Age, with capitals. Some called it Renewal Judaism. Messianic implications galore; the culmination of ancient teachings about the 2nd Temple being destroyed due to Sinat Hinam, unbridled hatred. If so, went the mantra, unbridled love, Ahavat Hinam, must bring Redemption.

The goyim made it even catchier: “All you need is love!”

Problem is – it’s patently untrue. We need much more. As educators of “tough love” have tried to explain to a generation raised on the excessive permissiveness of all those holy brothers. As THE master of love, the Patriarch Abraham (Is. 41:8), was told at the pinnacle of his life: “Now I know that you revere G~d” (Gen. 22:12).

Unbridled anything is simply not the Jewish way. Fine balance is. Except for one character trait, which we’re instructed to embrace to an extreme: Humility (Rambam, Deot 2:3).

This is why Moses (who passed away during these months of Adar) was chosen to receive the Torah. He’s not lauded for his love and kindness, which were abundant. Only for his humble service (Num. 12: 3,12). And the flip side was clarified through the legendary words of the Baal Shem Tov, on his death bed, about what to look for in a Jewish leader: “Only he who knows how to vanquish his pride.”

The recent news of sexual impropriety by a New Age rabbi got me thinking about all this. One report noted that a book by this same hip Jewish sage, Radical Judaism: Rethinking God and Tradition, had rationalized the sexual weaknesses of teachers around the principle that “good teaching is an act of love.” Really? Calling that a radical Jewish position is an understatement.

Teaching, certainly Torah teaching, is not about love at all. It’s about humble service to those in need of the knowledge we possess. There’s a reason that Moses is the only patriarch known as Rabbeinu, Our Teacher, and that the Torah exhorts us to teach its laws to the next generation in the spirit of shinune (Deut. 6:7), as we say in prayer, twice every day: V’shinantem l’vanekha, “You shall repeat them unto your children.” It has the same root as that for change, shinuee.

Torah teaching should humbly change both teacher and student; refine our coarse nature, over and over again. Love is very different. It comforts and nurtures that which we precisely don’t want to change. Which is extremely important in intimate contexts, but not in teaching.

To be sure, there are different levels of love. The Hebrew for companion is ra’eikha. Its root is ra, wicked. We are commanded to love them, in the sense of empathy with their struggles, as well as geirim, converts, for similar reasons. But not haver’iekha, our friends, nor akhee’kha, our brothers. Why? Because the latter love obviously benefits us, and thus needs no command. But loving those in need, with whom we are not so attached, transcends the self. Just like teaching Torah.

Such acts require commands.

Yet, there’s a difference between transcendence and denial. Nowhere does the Torah tell us to deny our basic integrity by loving those out to destroy us. “You shall love your companion as yourself” means that there must first be a healthy self.

This whole issue came to a head for me last month, when I read about the reproach of the U.S. Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, to the State of Israel. This Jew, with impressive lineage – whose interfaith marriage is on record as being officiated by both a rabbi and a priest in a catholic church – sermonized Israel to “never dehumanize” your enemy.

Why the departure from the common lecture about human rights? Or war crimes? Because it has that evangelical ring to it. Advocating for the humanity of your enemy is part of that delusion which the god of New Age demands of us. It’s an echo of the “turn the other cheek” morality which a certain Jew, thousands of years ago, tried to peddle to the faith ancestors of Blinken’s church (Mathew, 5:38,39,43,44).

Perhaps Dustin Hoffman, another interesting Jew, as the antagonist in the 90’s movie, “Hero,” explained it best. His cynical, uncouth character, Bernie, challenges a really nice, refined guy, John, who had deceptively become a celebrity hero, to continue the deception in order to help others who desperately look up to him. But John tells Bernie that he’s uncomfortable continuing the deception, to which Bernie responds, with amazing sobriety: “Uncomfortable is how you’re supposed to be (as a hero …) Do your JOB!”

It was an exquisite anticlimax. True heroism is hard. It’s transnatural giving as a job. But again – that doesn’t mean pouring kindness on those bent on committing evil against you. That’s not a job, but a figment of messianic imagination, which in truth is meant to make you feel euphoria in believing you don’t really have enemies!

No, Mr. Blinken, we won’t fall for that political fantasy. We are humble enough to admit that it's damn hard not to wipe out every last one of those who make up the society which produced and celebrated that genocidal orgy against our people. We will nevertheless accept the job of sparing as many non-combatants as possible, because we recognize that there is one true Judge, and that the mitzvah He gave of counter-genocide is only for members of one, particularly evil nation, Amalek, whom we no longer have a way of identifying (Talmud, Yuma 54A).

Still, we understand that the spirit of that mitzvah is extremely relevant: Those even peripherally connected to an ideology bent on exterminating us don’t deserve our compassion.

The Jews had light” (Est. 8:16), the Purim story concludes, after we counter-exterminated every Haman sympathizer we could find (Est. 9), without repeating the sin of King Saul, who had compassion on one noble Amalekite (I Sam., 15).

Now, just think about this. Mass murderers don’t have light! Terrorists don’t revel in anything close to light! “No redemption was ever brought by holy war,” wrote Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, in his important book on this topic, Not In God’s Name (2015, p. 265). He meant holy in the crusading, jihadi sense.

The Purim war, like our present one, was waged purely in self-defense. To do that, with humble devotion, opens up the soul to pure light; the reward for true heroes.

Proof of the pudding is how we’ve been celebrating it ever since. It’s not through burning effigies, flags, nor any act of violence. It’s via mishloakh manot, gifts of companion-love, the ideal of which is to send to those with whom we’ve had conflict (Peleh Yoetz on Purim; Nesivos Sholom, Maamrei Purim, “Chayev Inish”).

Catch that? After eliminating the enemy without, we seek friendship with the enemy within. Renewal Judaism is correct in one thing: We should not be obsessed with vanquishing our external enemies. It’s only a job, albeit heroic. When the dust settles, we must come back for a much more meaningful calling: Bringing close those with real potential to be our brothers and friends.

That’s not unbridled, but humble love – which can usher in a truly new age, no capitals, with endless light.

Y.Y. Bar-Chaiim hails from small town, Jewishly nondenominational America. His first visit to Israel was at age 16, with a Reform Jewish youth group, and he has been progressively exploring Judaism ever since. He has studied at the Conservative J.T.S., U.C. Berkeley, Bar-Ilan U., Hareidi yeshivot and kollelim and institutes for rabbinical counseling, and eventually brought his family into the community of Slonimer Hassidut. He has worked as a school counselor, teacher of English and Jewish Philosophy, and Jewish outreach. Presently, he learns, writes and teaches in Beitar Illit - and when no one's looking, assiduously follows the news.