There are many indications that we are not yet living in the Messianic Era. Rather, we are in the period shortly preceding the Messiah's coming, which in Jewish tradition is called "the footsteps of the Messiah," and we are being trampled by these footsteps, with suffering and confusion. From the wide variety of the existing turmoil and problems, I wish to focus on one issue, which has to do with looking at the totality of the Jewish world. Each and every one of us can, of course, remain in his or her small corner and see just one tiny slice of the world. But I think we should consider the Jewish People as a whole – in the Land of Israel, the United States, Jamaica, New Zealand. When I look at this overall picture I see something that frightens me.
Whoever deals with Jewish history, whoever studies Talmud, is well aware of the fact that there has always been controversy among Jews. Controversy has always been part and parcel of our own culture for two main reasons: first, as human beings and Jews our growth is nourished by the understanding that we are not a herd, that every one of us is a distinct human being, and that therefore every person can, and is entitled to, express personal opinions and contradict others.
Second, our cultural world, as it is reflected in the Talmud, is the dialectic of construction made possible by demolition, a dialectic of a world that emerges from the rifts and crossroads of reality, in which "through me and him the All-Highest is praised" (Sotah 40a) – you and I, together, will bring about the sanctification of God's Name.
Another aspect of controversy is that it is both psychological and sociological. The Jewish People cannot be defined as a nation in the political sense. Technically speaking, we are also not a religion, because we have no interest in being missionaries among the nations. What, then, are we? The most precise definition is that we are family, "The House of Jacob," Jacob's family. In most families there are quarrels; it is part of family dynamics. I have full permission to beat my brother, because he is my brother, or slap my sister, because she is my sister; but should anyone else try to touch them, I will muster all my forces to protect them. So, too, are our controversies: we can quarrel, slander one another, fight each other even to the point of drawing blood; but at the very basis there is a profound common denominator, the point of the unity of the Jewish People. The fact that we are Jews has never, until now, been disputed; and therefore, despite all of our disagreements, we have always felt that we are one entity, one body.
I once asked some assimilated Jews: "You do not go to any synagogue of any denomination, not even to a Jewish Community Center. What has remained of your Jewishness?" One of them replied that whenever he reads in a newspaper that an Israeli soldier was killed in the Land of Israel, he says "Oy!" This "oy" expresses the unity, it reflects our being one. As long as it exists, I know that any Jew – regardless of how much I disagree with him – is "bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh" (Genesis 2:23).
But in our day and age a change is taking place. Cracks have appeared, and this scares me. It seems to me that more and more Jews, both in Israel and abroad, no longer feel this unity.
Whatever the justification for this may be, the fact is that we are continuously losing this simple, basic feeling that come what may, we are still one family. I see this malady among extremist Neturei Karta no less than among extreme leftists. Yet this person who is descending to the lowest abyss, whether he dons a shtreiml or is not even circumcised, is still my brother. I may wish I had more beautiful, better relatives; but still, these people are bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh.
I see this phenomenon quite often overseas. Most of the things that are being said there about the State of Israel are not mere slander: they are calumny, lies and stupidities. The gentiles possibly want to believe in the bad things that are told about us because if they do not believe them, then they will have to respect us, and they are afraid of respecting us. The days when "ten men, out of all the languages of the nations, shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying: 'We will go with you, for we have heard that God is with you'" (Zachariah 8:23) have not yet arrived, nor do they seem likely to arrive soon. But when a Jew believes in the aspersions cast upon us, when a Jew no longer feels the unity and ceases to share the common pain – this is a state of malady, and it is scary.
It may be said that as a nation, we are now suffering from a sort of auto-immune disease.
Diseases of this kind, with which medical science is dealing extensively these days, are not caused by external agents of any sort – bacteria, viruses, blows. Rather, the body attacks itself because it no longer recognizes itself. Indeed, it is a mystery: how does an "I" know that it is an "I"?
How does the body recognize each and every one of its parts as parts of itself? There were times when every Jew knew for certain that some Jews were like the head in the body, while others were like the tip of a fingernail. However, the "tips of a fingernail" and the "heads" equally understood that, immunologically speaking, they were one, that they were all parts of the same body.
Similarly, if a certain cell in the body forgets that it belongs to that body, if it "assimilates" and behaves as if it belongs somewhere else, it ends up fighting against itself. It fights against itself not for any real reason, but because it has lost its sense of selfhood. This is what is happening now to the Jewish people.
There is a Yiddish song that says: "vas mir zenen, zenen mir; ober yiden zenen mir" – we may be whatever we may be, but we are surely Jews. In such a state of things we can and may quarrel. I can say that you are a bad Jew, and you are entitled to say that I am an even worse Jew, because we agree that we both belong to the same body. But once the feeling of estrangement, of otherness, begins to set in, this is the greatest danger.
According to Jewish esoteric knowledge, the Jewish people are God's revealed "body". Our Rabbis comment that the verse (Exodus 25:8): "And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them" does not say "within it," but "among them." Now, if such a body begins to fight itself, it ceases to be an "inner" problem of the Jewish people. Rather, it is tantamount to defiance toward Heaven, veritable heresy and negation of the basis of Jewish existence, which Scripture encapsulates in the famous verse "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one."
So, what can be done? I am writing and talking about this as much as I can, which is a lot less than I would like. The most important thing is to educate, educate, and educate. To educate the children, our descendants, to know that I am who I am, and that whatever I become and however much I may change, I will still be able to recognize myself. Today children are being educated to observe mitzvot, to learn Torah, to love and fear God. This is not enough. We must at least transmit a sense of who we are, our point of selfhood. When this communal "I" exists, it will continue growing even when my individual "I" falls apart, just as a new tree can grow from the roots of a tree that was cut down. We should really invest and continue to invest in the children in kindergartens, in yeshivahs and in the army, and even in the children who run for elections; so that they should all remember one thing, and one thing only: that a Jew is a Jew.
There is one prayer1 which for me is almost like a slogan: "Guardian of Israel, guard the remnants of Israel, so that the People of Israel shall not be lost, those who say 'Hear O Israel.'" Guardian of Israel, please guard us so that we will remain united – with all the quarrels, disputes and blows that we have already received and which we are yet to receive. May we all maintain this feeling of "he is our brother, our flesh" (Genesis 37:27). For as it emerges from the last part of the book of Genesis, the crucial point is the point at which we once again reveal that "we are twelve brethren, sons of our father" (Ibid., 42:32), and that for this, we are willing to risk our lives. Once we know this, all the rest is almost immaterial.