By Rabbi Joseph Potasnik
Some years ago, The New York Board of Rabbis received a special request from U.S. military officials. They asked if we could provide Torahs for Jewish personnel serving in Kuwait and Iraq during the High Holidays. We put out an urgent appeal and immediately received four Torahs from congregations of different denominations.
Interestingly, when the Torahs arrived, I asked our staff if they could identify the denomination by simply looking at each holy scroll. Of course, it was impossible to specify because each Torah was identical on the inside while only the outside cover looked different. It should also be noted that the middle letter of the entire Torah is “vav”—a conjunctive meaning “and,” connecting the five books that belong to our entire people.
Rosh Hashanah teaches us that we as a people must embrace diversity of thought and unity of spirit. As Rabbi Harold Schulweis wrote in his book In God’s Mirror, “The Jewish community would not have been better off without a Heschel or a Soloveitchik, without a Kaplan or a Buber, without a Leo Baeck or a Shneur Zalman. Not all wisdom or truth is mine; not all revelation is limited to my school, to my movement, to my denomination.”
Jewish tradition tells us that the schools of Hillel and Shammai had some 310 arguments regarding Jewish practice, and yet they maintain the highest regard for one another.
My father taught me years ago that whatever Judaism I practice, I should be proud of that Judaism.
I will always remember Senator Joseph Lieberman campaigning for vice president during the intermediate days of Sukkot. A photographer snapped a picture of a Secret Service agent taking the palm branch (lulav) and citron (etrog) out of the car. That lulav symbolizes Jewish pride within us.
Sadly, in our country we have witnessed a spirit of divisiveness separating red and blue, left and right. Compromise has become anathema to various groups who refuse to acknowledge the legitimacy of the others. It must be remembered that Rosh Hashanah is a new year commemorating the birthday of one world and the beginning of one Jewish peoplehood. It is a reminder that we are many and one simultaneously.
A Jewish theologian said, “The most difficult commandment in the Bible is, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’—especially when you have a neighbor like mine.”
May this new year of 5778 be one where difference and unity reside in one people in one country.
Rabbi Joseph Potasnik is the executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis.