As the dust of the election slowly settles, the hateful words thrown around in the heat of the moment are gradually forgotten, destined to be archived in the annals of history. But as the words dissipate, the feelings that were awakened remain, making their way from the districts of consciousness to the districts of emotion. Specks of doubt and a sense of unease remain. Who will represent us? Who will protect us? Are we on the path toward the loss of democracy or at the entrance to a new dawn? There is plenty to consider, but there is at least one thing that cannot cannot be denied. Every Israeli election season in recent memory has reminded us how little social solidarity is left in Israel. Virtually every recent Israeli election season has been marked by deep waves of hatred, of fear of the stranger and the other, and the building of taller and taller walls that divide between the different camps that make up Israeli society.
An exploration of this week’s parasha, Ki Tavo, part of a group of parashot containing Moses’ speeches before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, reveals that nothing is new Under the sen. The foundations of the parasha indicate that, despite technological and social transformations, human psychology remains the same at its core, even after thousands of years of socialization and development. Hence when Moses, a staunch politician, speaks to the Israelites on the evening of their entrance into the land of Israel, he lays down four elements that are to form the foundations of their new society:
- A shared narrative
- Social solidarity
- The promise of a better future
- Fear – from bodily harm, to the collapse of security and the economy
A glance back at the recent Israeli campaign season reveals manifestations of each of these foundations, but with unequal emphasis. Most of the discourse was directed to the most basal element, the fear of the unknown. Fear is often the strongest motivator for action. (In our Torah portion, for example, fifty verses are deal with fear of what is to happen if God’s word is unheaded, compared to fifteen verses addressing promises for a better future.) We then received empty but pleasant promises for a better future with regards to the economy and security for us and our children. And in the few minutes between commercials, we heard a few words about shared narrative and solidarity.
The day after the elections, our joint mission must be to shift this emphasis. To decrease the intimidation and empty promises and to invest our efforts into establishing a common narrative based on the values of solidarity and care. To decrease fear of the “other,” the poor, the propertyless, the immigrant, and to direct our shared narrative to the elements that enable us to see our shared growth as value.
An echo of this concept is found in our Parasha, when the people are instructed:
“When he brings us to this place and gives us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey… You shall enjoy, together with the Levite and the stranger in your midst, all the bounty that the LORD your God has bestowed upon you and your household. When you have set aside in full the tenth part of your yield—in the third year, the year of the tithe—and have given it to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that they may eat their fill in your settlements.” (Deuteronomy 26, 9-12)
With these few verses, the shared narrative and the relationship between moral obligation and formal obligation (e.g. taxes and tithes) are refined. The binding of moral and formal obligation are the basis of the new social order.
Unfortunately, in both the parasha and in the political-social reality in which we live, these obligations are dulled in the expanding discourse directed to our most primary foundations – fear and the need for security. At this point in time we have to decide whether we want to continue with these emphases or if we want to direct our personal and public attention to the lack of social responsibility and solidarity in our country. These foundations of society-building have been around for thousands of years. Our responsibility is to change the power relations between them and to direct the bulk of our efforts to social cohesion away from fear-politics and enmity. This path – the path of social cohesion and building shared purpose despite our differences – might be the more difficult path, and may not make for catchy campaign slogans, but it is the only way to build a truly strong and vibrant Israeli society for years to come.
Avraham Eisen is the Director of BINA’s Education Department.