Last week a friend and colleague asked me if I really believe that, one day, everyone will repent and be religious. The question was meant to probe deep; he was clearly checking to see how sincere I am when I claim to respect those whose Jewish values are other than mine. I understand that it would not be easy for my non-religious friends to swallow that kind of “respect” - it would seem patronizing at best and at worst something along the lines of “I like you but I am sorry to say you are going to Hell.”
I do not spend much time dwelling on the distant future, my motto is akin to the Taoist saying “Those who know don’t say, and those who say don’t know”. Of more significant concern to me is what should be done to fix the present. That being said I cannot deny the fact that it is our vision of the future that informs our choices and opinions regarding the present. So what do I really believe?
I admit that when it comes to utopia I am a romantic. I imagine a world of perfection so far beyond what we have imagined so far that I have no idea. Perhaps others walk the world feeling that if only everyone would see things their way the world would be perfect. I for one would be quite disappointed to learn that what I currently understand to be true is the ultimate answer to life, the universe and everything. It would not be any less disappointing than the number 42 (That's for the Douglas Adams fans among you. The clueless rest, please forgive).
I imagine that once someone figures out the ultimate truth it will be so far beyond anything we have yet considered, it will be so compelling and self-evident, that it will not be long before everyone comes on board. Let me explain that while I know this is helplessly romantic it is also the only plausible belief for me to choose, and here is why. The gift of belief in a utopian messianic process in history is one of the great gifts the Jewish people bestowed upon the world. It is the foundation whereby Western thought understands that there is a process at work moving us forward through history towards a better place. But now you tell me, will Mashiach wear a black hat or a knitted kipah? Perhaps she will don a talit and teffilin? Whatever image Mashiach will present, how in Gods world will the others get on board?
So you see, I really have no choice. It must be something new, something that will draw on distinct truths held in each of our different paths. Indeed I believe in each world religion. I also believe in something that can hold contradictions and paradox in ways we have not yet figured out. We will all be challenged yet we will all see it as our own. My respect for the other comes from a belief that it is not I that has to fix him, but that he has something that is meant to fix me; not to change me, not to remove me from my core identity and belief, but to hold in tension the places where my way is not large enough to reflect the divine unity I aspire to serve.
These are the three weeks we mourn the destruction of the Temple due to sinat chinam, baseless hatred. According to the Bible the voice of God in the Temple would emerge from above the ark from between the two Cruvim, the sculpted images of two angels on the ark's cover. We are taught that these figures were distinct: one male one female (is there a difference more alien than that?). I believe this comes to teach us that it is when we truly face the other, or perhaps each other, that the voice of God emerges, from the exact nexus where our eyes meet.
Rabbi Aaron Leibowitz is Dean of Sulam Yaakov, a Beit Midrash for Community Leadership Development in the Nachlaot neighborhood of Jerusalem.