HaRav Ovadia Yosef is no stranger to saying thing that cause many of us to cringe. The latest:
“Abu Mazen and all these evil people should perish from this world,” Rabbi Ovadia was quoted as saying during his weekly sermon at a synagogue near his Jerusalem home. “God should strike them with a plague, them and these Palestinians.”
I read these words and feel for this man. A man who’s brain is like a computer program. He has memorized pretty much every important Jewish text of the last 2500 years. And believe it or not, on many issues where other Haredi Rabbis like him have ruled in confusingly harsh ways, he has proven moderate (again, in a certain context). And yet, he speaks about an entire people and wishes for their wholesale destruction. He wishes upon them what many for thousands of years have wished upon our people. He wishes upon them what the Nazis almost succeeded in doing.
But I want to dig a little deeper here. Because it seems to me his words are an example of a universal human truth. We all look at our lives, look at our problems, at those people, places, ideas, etc. that are causing us anguish – and wish that they would just dissapear. We allow ourselves to become stuck in one place spinning our wheels, because the cause of all our problems is one thing.
If I only had a million dollars, I would be happy.
If only my daughter would sleep through the night, I would be kinder and more productive.
My neighbor keeps playing his music too loud, if only he would move all would be well.
Rav Yosef believes that if there were no Palestinians around, all his problems would be gone. His people could settle the entire Biblical land of Israel and no one would care. There would be no war, nothing to preoccupy us from creating a wonderful Haredi state in the land of Israel.
Yet here is the thing. Hes wrong. What we think is the end all be all of our problems rarely is. We are much too complicated, much too interconnected to work this way. And God did not create such a world. Even though God keeps promising the Children of Israel that their enemies will be destroyed and they will live happily ever after, that never happens. Its as if God wants us to strive for perfection, but places obstacles in our way to remind us that there is always work to do.
I don’t know for sure, but I doubt given the chance Rav Yosef would slaughter millions of Palestinians. I think he just wishes his problems were gone, because he is too weak or too scared to actually confront them. He even says as much, “God should strike them with a plague, them and these Palestinians.” Not, “we should just nuke the bastards.” He wants his problems gone, and for them just to disappear. He wont take any action to get them to go away. And therein lies the rub. Because action would get them to go away. Were he to decide to work for peace, he is one of the few who could actually speak with the leaders of Hamas – because under it all these are similar people. People who practice their faith in similar ways, who speak the same language, and who call on God to do away with their problems without appreciating that it is God who put them there in the first place.
Rav Yosef is all of us. No matter how much we denounce him, we should all keep in mind that we all go where he has gone…
Jonah joined J Street following two years as Rabbinic Fellow at B’nai Jeshurun in New York City. For nearly ten years Jonah has dedicated himself to teaching and promoting the cause of peace as refracted and understood by the Jewish tradition. He served as Senior Coexistence Educator for Kivunim: New Directions, was a senior educator for the Pardes Center for Judaism and Conflict Resolution’s Rodef Shalom program, and has been a trip facilitator and leader of the Peacemakers’ Beit Midrash with Encounter. Jonah spent his freshman year of college on Young Judaea Year Course, was a Kollel Fellow at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem, a summer fellow at Yeshivat Hadar, and a CLAL Rabbis Without Borders Fellow. Born and raised in Manhattan where he graduated from the Heschel and Fieldston Schools, Jonah received his BA in History and Jewish Studies from Indiana University, studied with Rabbi Dr. Marc Gopin earning an MS in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from George Mason University, and received an MA in Jewish Studies and Rabbinic Ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary.