Thinking about resolutions for the year ahead, it occurs to me that one of the most necessary resolutions at this moment is resolution itself. With all of the conflict and divisiveness in our country and in our public discourse, it seems like a good idea to focus on reconciliation and resolving some of our differences.
As a person of deep beliefs and distinct opinions myself, I certainly feel that each of us is entitled to our own perspectives and ideas, but it seems to me that we ought to be able to discuss them civilly and tolerate viewpoints that are divergent from our own - yet that is something that seems to be sorely lacking in the marketplace of ideas today more than ever.
Interestingly, in the portion of the Torah we read this week, Moses identifies diviseness and lack of unity as the root cause of the nation's exile and oppression in Egypt. As the story goes, Moses was secretly raised as the Princess's son in the royal palace, and when he went out and observed the oppression of his own people, he rescued a slave from a wicked Egyptian who was beating the man after raping his wife. By uttering a secret name of God, Moses killed the Egyptian taskmaster, and subsequently, two other wayward Jews who had witnessed the event informed on him to Pharoah. At that point, the Torah states "And Moses feared, and he said 'indeed the thing has become known.'" (Exodus 2:14).
The commentators explain that Moses was not simply afraid that his own deed had become known to the king. On a deeper level, what was known to him now was the answer to a question he had been asking himself for some time, i.e. why God had allowed the people to be subject to such cruel circumstances in Egypt. He realized that it was because they were intolerant of one another to the extent that they were willing to inform on one of their own. And what he feared far more than his own punishment was that the people may never be redeemed from Egypt in order to form a nation because the idea of a nation is a group of individuals who work together for a common cause. If we are focused on our differences rather than our commonality, then we are not only unworthy of peace and redemption, we are unable to form a unified front and forge a common future.
It seems to me that our country is suffering from an unprecedented degree of antipathy and disrespect for one another on both sides of the aisle. There have always been ideological differences and a broad spectrum of opinions in America . That is one of the things that has made our country great - the accommodation of diversity, the melting pot, the pursuit of a system that would not only tolerate variances, but would strive to make all feel represented and valued. While debate and disagreement are an essential aspect of the democratic process, insult and vitriol are not only unnecessary, they are unproductive and ultimately destructive.
In resolving to pursue resolution, I would ask the following questions: Must we demonize those whose beliefs are different from our own? Must we insist that anyone who sees things differently from the way I do is either ignorant or malicious? Can't we strive to understand why s/he sees it that other way - rather than ascribing dubious or malicious motivations, can't we listen and try to find our shared humanity?
To resolve does not necessarily mean to come to agreement or conclusion, and it certainly does not mean to fail to defend oneself from those who would do us harm. It means to reconcile and to decide to work together with those who share our fundamental human ideals and values. As Moses taught us, we can either resolve or we will dissolve. If we want to be a nation, and for that matter a light unto the other nations, we must choose tolerance, respect, and post-partisan collaboration.
Wishing us all a new year of peace, growth, and resolution. Happy 2016!