OpinionJewish & Israeli Holidays

Passover 2023

This seder, let’s begin by declaring ‘Ve’ahavta Le’reiacha Kamocha’

“Behold, I accept upon myself the commandment of the Lord to love my neighbor as myself.”

Handmade “shmurah matzah” used at Passover seder. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Handmade “shmurah matzah” used at Passover seder. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Rabbi Avi Weiss. Credit: Courtesy.
Rabbi Avi Weiss
Rabbi Avi Weiss is the founding rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, the Bayit, and founder and co-founder, respectively, of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and Yeshivat Maharat rabbinical schools.He is a longtime activist for Israel, Jewish causes and human rights.

Sitting around the seder table this year, will no doubt be family members representing different political and religious views. With the searing judicial reform debate in Israel still on our minds, the seder could pit siblings, parents and children, against each other—a microcosm of the conflict playing out all over Israel and the world.

As a means to inspire civil discussion, we should begin the Passover seder by adopting the prayer recited by some before the morning daily service: Ve’ahavta Le’reiacha Kamocha—“Behold, I accept upon myself the commandment of the Lord to love my neighbor as myself.”

Being part of the Jewish family does not mean that we agree on everything. What it does mean is that when we disagree, we should do so agreeably. Those we oppose should not be viewed as the enemy but as family. We must be absolutely uncompromising on the mitzvah of ahavat Yisrael, loving our fellow Jew.

In order for us to achieve this while staying true to our individual principles, an ethic of disagreement should be drafted. Here are some modest suggestions:

  • Language must be used with care. While a word is a word and a deed is a deed, words lead to deeds.
  • Dissent is acceptable. Delegitimization is not. No purpose is served in invalidating the other.
  • Whether one supports or opposes judicial reform, ahavat Yisrael requires a total and unconditional commitment to the security of the Jewish state.
  • Right and left should recognize that it has no monopoly on loving the land and people of Israel. When disagreeing, we should not malign the motives of the other.
  • As difficult as it is to imagine, each side has what to learn from the other, as both the Knesset, the body that enacts laws, and the Supreme Court, the final protector of human and civil rights, are vital to the future of a strong, Jewish, democratic Israel.

There has always been a clear difference between fighting an external enemy—that has been the hallmark of my 50-year rabbinate—and disagreements within the Jewish community. In internal disputes, we are, in effect, disagreeing with members of our own family. The rules, therefore, must be far more benevolent, based firmly on principles of acceptance, loyalty and love. The idea of family and the rules that govern family relations are, I believe, at the heart of ahavat Yisrael. Ahavat Yisrael, in essence, is a family matter.

Throughout my life, Passover seders accentuated the threat from external forces and our belief that no matter the obstacles, we will (with God’s help) overcome. This year, the focus should be on the internal strife ripping us asunder and what we can do to help repair the breach.

And so, when breaking the matzah for the afikomen, we may consider a self-reflective question, specifically given the terrible divide. What can I do to make things better? And when opening the door for Elijah, whom the prophet declares will announce that redemption is near, we should imagine warmly welcoming in a fellow Jew with different views from our own.

And, as the seder draws to a close with the hope of L’shanah haba’ah b’Yerushalayim—“Next year in Jerusalem”—we should all declare: I am an extremist Jew. Not on the right or left; but rather, an extremist in ahavat Yisrael, loving our fellow Jew.

Avi Weiss is founding rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale–the Bayit; founder and co-founder, respectively, of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and Yeshivat Maharat rabbinical schools; and co-founder of the International Rabbinic Fellowship. His thematic commentary on the Torah, “Torat Ahavah–Loving Torah,” is scheduled to be published this summer.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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