It has been a sad week.
Over the last month we have witnessed an inspiring spirit of unity amongst Jews in Israel and across the world. Together we South African Jews have weathered, with strength and faith, an onslaught of hatred and intimidation from racist enemies, and have proudly declared our belief in the justice and legitimacy of the State of Israel, and how it has conducted itself in this war.
After surviving the external adversaries, some of us we have now turned on each other. School boys have become political pawns, and our precious Jewish day schools have become platforms for personal and ideological agenda. Facebook has become a battleground filled with insult and abuse.
Let’s end this now.
I would like to take this opportunity to call on every member of the South African Jewish community to embrace this coming Shabbos as a time of reflection and repentance. Shabbos is connected to the idea of peace, as is clear from the greeting we extend to one another – “Shabbat Shalom”. Let us use this Shabbat, when we are away from Facebook and the deluge of information and vitriolic debates, to reflect on how we can return to our most sacred shared Jewish values of menschlichkeit and respect for one another.
According to our Sages some of the very worst sins are those of ‘ona’at devarim’ – insulting another person – and ‘lashon hara’ – speaking negatively about another. Let us use this coming Shabbos to think about how every word we say, and write, has lasting consequences and can do real damage.
Our Sages teach us that words create worlds and words destroy worlds, that with one kind and encouraging word we can uplift the spirit of another human being, thereby fulfilling a great mitzvah; and conversely with an unkind word, we can destroy another.
The saintly Chofetz Chaim, who devoted so much of his life to campaigning for higher standards of Torah ethical conduct, warned that the destructive force of ‘machloket’ – dispute and division – can consume families and communities like a wild fire: “And therefore, my brothers and friends, have mercy on yourselves and the Jewish People, and let everyone in his place extinguish the fire of dissension so that His great Name should not be desecrated anymore and in this we will merit to hear the voice announcing peace in the world.” The Chofetz Chaim signed the letter with a “broken heart”.
I have asked all of our Rabbis to devote their sermons this Shabbos to the importance of peace and respect in our community. Let us all come together as one community in the spirit of our world-renowned menschlichkeit and unity and above all let us just remember to be nice to one another.
Wishing us all a true Shabbat Shalom.
Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein
Let’s all be nice to each other