One of the most worrying features of today is the polarisation and internecine conflict over issues like the referendum, climate control, the provision of housing and adequate care for the vulnerable. It brings out the worst in many and threatens to split our country. This is exacerbated in the Jewish community over the protests and democracy debate in Israel, and the divisions between the secular and religious communities; not to mention the conflict within the religious community itself.
In a time of hate, we need to reaffirm love.
Love and chesed (deep loving kindness) is about not invalidating the other. It is about sharing the burden of protecting your community and your country. And it is about eschewing extremism (on both the right and left) and pursuing the path of radical moderation. If we do not find that path of the Biblical darchei noam, the way of peace and pleasantness, of reaching out in care and consideration to the other, what kind of world are we creating?
Love is power. American playwright Thornton Wilder called it the only hope, the only survival. South African writer Alan Paton put it that when one loves genuinely one does not seek power because they already possess real power. ‘And you shall love’, Veahavta is the imperative of Jewish prayer and of our most famous prayer – the Shema Yisrael. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks reflects on the meaning of love and chesed at this time of the year on the Jewish calendar when we ask God to write us in the Book of Life for the New Year. He writes: ‘What have you done with your life so far? Have you thought about others or only yourself? Have you brought healing to a place of human pain, hope to a place where you found despair?’
Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, coming up in a few weeks’ time reminds us about living with forgiveness. Have you written others into the Book of Life? Love is more about you and what I can give, rather than about me and what I can get. Deep down, we all hunger for appreciation and recognition. I still recall the first weeks of being a grandfather and how I was reminded of this by the way my first grandson responded to voice, touch and face.
We connect most vitally, most potently, most intimately, when face to face, hand to hand, heart to heart – not battery to power, not touch to screen, not Facebook to friend. Do not just email me, message me, or WhatsApp me. Rather, when my heart is bursting or breaking, hold me. And help me recognise that I do not have to be perfect in order to love and be loved.
On Yom Kippur Jews believe that God holds us all in love and forgiveness, and it is the closest we can come face to face. He comes out to meet and greet us. He accepts us in all our confused imperfectability. He takes our fragile hearts and tends them. He takes our broken hallelujahs and mends them. He rejoices in our humaneness and celebrates our humanity. It may be a Jewish day, but it also has a universal thrust. We don’t just pray for the good of the Jewish people but (perhaps rather presumptuously) we plead for our planet, we pray for our wounded world, we speak of all the creatures and people of the world coming before God’s eyes.
Let us not limit our challenges, but challenge our limits. Let us not disappoint God and our fellow human beings, but commit to turning our failures into triumphs and our disappointments into resolutions of renewal.