Politicians, journalists and intellectuals are currently wrapped up in a heated debate over Israel’s very character, including its Jewish identity. However, they’re missing some key components in this dialogue: compassion and understanding.
Our sages teach us in the context of dating that matchmaking is as difficult as splitting the Red Sea. Why? God split the sea so that the people of Israel could pass through it. In fact, the sages say that he split the sea into 12 parts to represent the 12 tribes. While each stream followed its own path, eventually, God brought the sea back together – so it became one unifying force yet again, and a force that ultimately vanquished the Egyptians.
This wasn’t the only time that God split something open in order to create a cohesive whole. Eve was physically a part of Adam, and the result of the two of them coming together resulted in the humanity we know today. Tearing something apart is hard. But putting the pieces back together is even more difficult.
Yet, it must be done.
When it comes to Jewish law, the Sanhedrin dictated what is or is not permitted. But prayer is a highly individualistic practice and is open to many interpretations. It is this diversity in methods of worship that brings about the flourishing of the Jewish people.
Therefore, as Israel is mired in debate and controversy, it is important not to discount the opinion of the other. These discussions about the Jewish identity of the State of Israel should always be conducted with love, respect and the understanding that we are one nation.
Our sages also teach us that Ahab’s generation practiced idolatry, and yet the Jewish people at the time could have very well won the war that they were engaged in because they never slandered each other. Indeed, unity is our path to redemption.
As such, I recommend the following addition to the prayer for peace in the State of Israel: “I will make them one nation in the land, in the mountains of Israel. There will be one king over all of them and they will never again be two nations or be divided into two kingdoms.”
In addition to prayer, I suggest following these guidelines for respectful and productive conversations moving forward. They are what I refer to as the “Ten Commandments of productive debate:”
1. Begin by discussing what the two parties have in common – there is so much that unites us.
2. Stick to the subject at hand and try not to blow things out of proportion.
3. Focus on a single topic that is causing discord, don’t use the discussion as an opportunity to tackle all of the world’s problems.
4. Know how to listen. While you’re listening, practice empathy and try to understand the other side’s position. Listen to understand, not to take the time to formulate what you plan to say next.
5. Let the person finish their sentence, even if it sounds like they already made their point and you understood it. Take this approach because a) Maybe you didn’t understand after all and b) Part of the goal of listening is to foster feelings of inclusion, not to only think about what we want to say next.
6. Be in touch with your values and be prepared to discuss them, but in a pleasant and respectful way, without hurting someone else’s feelings.
7. Be humble enough to know when to say, “I agree with you.” Even when others harbor drastically different points of view, there is usually some common ground.
8. The goal isn’t to win the argument but rather to build a connection. If one side wins, then they both lose. Sometimes it’s enough to politely express your opinion and hear the other side’s perspective as well.
9. Know how to love, even if it goes against your better judgment. Simultaneously, it’s important to also stand your ground.
10. Don’t argue. Speak in a gentle manner. After all, as Rav Kook said, “He who speaks in anger shows emptiness.” Anger leads to distance and even war, while conversation begets listening and connection.
Amid Israel’s 75th anniversary, if the Jewish people rely on the most productive tools in their arsenal – prayer, love and logic – then we will become united once again.