For several days now we’ve been hearing about and seeing the horrors in Haiti. Last week, en route to the class I teach, I heard the initial reports about the powerful earthquake. I proceeded to start class by reading Psalms for the sake of saving the hundreds of thousands of people hurt in the quake.
I do not know anyone in Haiti, and I’m quite certain that there are barely any Jews there. I did not read Psalms for the sake of the Jews there, assuming there are any. I did it for the sake of the human beings who live there.
Later I found out that I was among the very few teachers who did it. While I have no qualms with other teachers, who are facing the daily pressure of preparing their students for the matriculation exams, I nonetheless feel that the religious community is a little detached from global events.
Why should it interest me? One of my students said. What’s my connection to them?
Yet in this matter I endorse the following message offered by Rabbi Kook: Love for human beings must be alive in one’s heart and soul; the love for every person separately and for all nations. This love must be applied to all persons, in spite of different views, religions, and faiths. Moreover, it would be good to learn as much as possible about the different traits of different nations so we know how to premise human love on practical fundamentals.
Rabbi Kook also offered the following insight: Narrowness that prompts one to view anything beyond the borders of Israel as ugly and defiled is among the most terribly dark traits that prompt the total destruction of positive spirituality.
In other words, next to the yeshiva carrying Rabbi Kook’s name we should have seen a faculty that addresses the different nations and states of the world. Alternately, in every faculty for the studies of the East, West, or Africa, we should have seen a rabbi or spiritual teacher, whose role would be to offer a spiritual contribution to the studies of each country.
What’s certain is that we still have much work to do on this front. Perhaps the damage caused to the Jewish spirit by foreign cultures since the days of Emancipation caused us to shut down and assume a defensive posture in the face of anything that happens outside of Israel.
However, those who truly understand Jewish nationalism, based on Rabbi Kook’s worldview, must be wholly connected to all nations of the world. That is, one should not only seek the welfare of the Jewish people, but rather, demand it for all nations. In any case, we must be thinking of what we can contribute to all nations of the world, both materially and spiritually.
Ever since we’ve had a state, this is one of its most noble objectives, and possibly the most noble of all. It is precisely religious Israelis who should be leading the formation of ties between Israel and the nations of the world, not through self-depreciation in the face of foreign cultures and other religions, but rather, in order to ensure that our ties with the world are premised on the proper basis. And for the time being, let’s all pray for the salvation of the poor souls in Haiti.
Rabbi Rafi Ostroff teaches at the Neve Chana ulpana in Gush Etzion