Whilst his comments about the need for the 1967 borders to be the basis of any future peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians are unwelcome by Israel there is a larger issue that went unacknowledged – the prevalence of bitterness, animosity and resentment in the region.
In the Middle East bitterness and hatred is everywhere, between governments and the people, towards America, towards Israel, between Shia and Sunni. The list goes on. We in the West are forever worried about breeding more Arab and Muslim resentment by our actions.
One may argue that the entire point of Obama’s speech was to assuage Arab and Muslim animosity towards the United States. Obama seems unaware that nothing he could ever say or do will change anything. Their culture must first evolve from one that contains enmity towards others to one that incorporates contentment within themselves.
Holding feelings of bitterness, resentment and hatred is a choice that always ends in destruction and pain – primarily to the harborer. This applies equally to interpersonal and geopolitical relationships. Experts agree that unresolved bitterness and resentment will ultimately ruin any relationship.
The Torah (Leviticus 26) has warned against the destructive nature of these character traits. The verses (14 - 16) reads as follows: “But if you do not listen to Me and do not perform all these commandments, and if you despise My statutes and are repulsed by My ordinances, not performing any of My commandments, thereby breaking My covenant then I too, will do the same to you etc.”
Extremely important lessonMany have used these paragraphs to argue that the God of the Hebrew Bible is wrathful and vengeful. But a careful reading conveys a different message. The verses clearly state that the terrible consequences mentioned come about only after one despises and is disgusted by the commandments, in addition to not following them.
There are those who argue (Torat Kohanim) that despising and becoming repulsed is an inevitable consequence of not listening and not performing. Human experience, however, indicates that it can be avoided.
People with differing values and world views need not despise and hate each other. One can respectfully differ and take an alternate path without hating or resenting the others way of life. It does not have to be a zero sum game.
Choosing not to follow the Commandments does not necessitate the conclusion that those who do should be viewed with condescension. The Torah warns us about the terrible and destructive consequences we bring upon ourselves by being disrespectful, condescending and ultimately resentful, bitter and hateful to those whose world view differs from our own.
This was an extremely important lesson the ancient Israelites needed to learn if they were to go on and become successful as a nation.
Whist there is room for vast improvement, Jews and the Western world have, by and large, internalized this idea. Unfortunately the rest of the Middle East are yet to learn it. Until they do, no matter how many revolutions they have, real progress in that region will always be one step away.
Rabbi Levi Brackman is author of Jewish Wisdom for Business Success: Lesson from the Torah and Other Ancient Texts
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