Our secular year didn’t get off to a good start. The fires in Australia, where many of us have relatives and friends, have dominated the news for the last couple of months, but a few days ago this changed. A US military drone eliminated top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and the ensuing upheaval sucked the world’s attention and our own back to the Middle East. Fear of war and fear of both local and international reprisals set in, together with an escalation of hatred in a world that already has more than enough of it. And what about Israel, so close to the point of escalation, strong perhaps, but vulnerable too?
Whatever we think of the motivations behind the attack, we are all left to cope with the fear and uncertainty engendered by this hefty geopolitical shift. Often our human nature inclines us to redirect our fear toward others, toward strangers in our midst and strangers abroad. We withdraw into ourselves and demonize others! And while people have feared and demonized us as Jews throughout history, and increasingly do so today, we are not immune to the reflex. But we should be very sensitive to it nevertheless, in ourselves and in our communities.
In a sense, it’s part of the ‘evil inclination’ the rabbis of the Talmud allude to in the Daf Yomi of Thursday January 8 (see our President’s message for more on the new Daf Yomi cycle): Rabbi Levi bar Chama said that Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish said: One should always try to subdue one’s evil inclination. If we succeed, great. But if we do not, we should study Torah. If Torah doesn’t work, we should recite the Shema. And if all else fails, we should remind ourselves of our mortality” (summarised from Berakhot 5a). The Talmudic bottom line is that all of us are human, even the others we demonize. But let’s hope we don’t need to depend on the bottom line.
IJC Rabbinical Intern