“Experience is more forceful than logic.”
Don Isaac Abravanel
Aspects of the Torah’s foreign affairs agenda offer timely lessons that can inspire personal renewal in this season. “You shall not abhor an Edomite, because he is your brother. You shall not abhor an Egyptian, because you were an alien in his land” (Deut. 23:8). Much has been written concerning the Torah’s defiant insistence against harboring vengeful feelings against one-time foreign adversaries. What I find curious are the reasons given by our verse for not abhorring. With the Edomite, the reason is because of relationship (“he is your brother”); with the Egyptian, it is because of experience (“you were an alien in his land”). Compressed within these two rationales is a potent lesson about the most effective forces capable of propelling personal change.
What brings people to reconsider their beliefs, their convictions, even their ideologies? Certainly not Op-Ed pieces written by those whose views vary widely from our own. Nor is a speaker, even a highly persuasive one, likely to cause us to change our orientation on a political or religious matter. But after we’ve come through an experience in which our theoretical beliefs have been tossed and turned through the crucible of reality, we may very well alter what we believe. Former Utah Senator Orin Hatch favors stem-cell research, contrary to the convictions of his ideological peers, because such research had saved the life of a family member. The same is true about important relationships. When somebody we respect and care for deeply asks us to consider taking a fresh look at a conviction that is important to her or him, we are more likely to give it a try.
It is one thing for the Torah to call for a warmer rapport with Edomites and Egyptians than with Moabites and Amonites. But the reasons why tell a much deeper story about the forces we might look to in search of change catalysts as we approach the High Holy Days. May exposure to new experiences and a spirit of curiosity around those whom we admire most, invite a new way to approach a challenge, to think about an issue, and to be in rapport with the people and things that truly matter.
A sweet Shabbat to you.
Rabbi William Hamilton