February 2019

Dear friends,

Very often I find myself engaged in the deconstruction of worldviews and beliefs.  To deconstruct is to take apart layer by layer by proving false the dogma on which it is based. For me, this is an exercise in freedom. As the good book says ‘yitron haor haba mitoch hachoshech’ – the exquisite value of light is especially apparent when it comes after darkness.

For some people though this process sounds overly negative. And that’s totally ok. Human beings are subjective organisms whose views, preferences, and character, very much reflect their past experience. For me, the first 24 years of my life I had a very strong sense of identity and meaning. But I also held onto a number of ideas and beliefs that I later found to be restrictive. So in that context, it makes sense that I revel in the process of deconstruction.

Someone else who grew up differently might seek fulfilment through subscribing ‘warts and all’ to a particular group and ideology. Though it might be something of an anathema to me I recognise that ultimately we as humans are subjective organisms who can never entirely transcend the experiences that have led us to view things as we do.

I really do believe that morality, at its core, can be framed in precisely this language. Morality is about the process of recognising the limitation of our own subjective experience and being courageous enough to explore a position which initially may have shaken us to our core.

Recently, I was inspired by an article in the Washington Post by Mohammad Al-Issa entitled ‘Why Muslims from Around the World should Remember the Holocaust’.

To put him in a little context, he worked at Imam Mohammed bin Saud Islamic University as a faculty member. He was minister of justice to the Saudi cabinet. And in 2016 he was appointed Secretary General of the Muslim World League. Not a lightweight.

For someone as entrenched as he in a worldview which for the past 80 years has, at best, seen Israel as just an extension of colonialism, the Holocaust not their problem or, at worst, involved in actively denying or trivialising its atrocities, this is one huge leap.

The article in its entirety is a great read but it is especially astounding when he writes of his experience at the Holocaust Museum. ‘I came to Washington to visit the Holocaust Memorial Museum. As the director escorted me through the exhibition, I saw for myself the mountains of evidence — the videos, the photos, the placards, the interviews, the memorabilia — that testify to the historic truth of the Holocaust. One doesn’t have to go to the museum to recognize the enormity of the Holocaust — but no one who does come to the museum can deny it. It continues to be one of the most powerful and moving experiences of my life.’

To think that someone in the highest echelons of influential Saudis whose country is a traditional enemy of Israel and Jews worldwide should say that learning of the Holocaust continues to be one of the most powerful and moving experiences of his life is truly uplifting. It is an expression of the highest order of what it means to break free of one’s subjective limitations and proof that doing so can only make room for spreading peace and love in our fractured world.

May we all endeavour to unshackle ourselves from our own bigotry and through that bring us one step closer to a time when the swords will be replaced with ploughshares.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Shneur