The hateful murder of three Muslim students in Chapel Hill, NC, cannot be condemned strongly enough. It is terrifying to imagine a home invasion. It is horrible to see xenophobia. It is intensely distressing to see a cultural climate, that is often described as being hostile to Muslims, turn into violence against Muslims.
One of the central ideas of Jewish ethics is that concern for the universal bubbles up out of concern for the particular. This means that my love of Jews – my concern for the State of Israel, or for Jewish communities worldwide – is something that is legitimate in-and-of-itself, and something that should also move me in a more universal direction. Someone might say, “How can you care about Jews in France – there are so many other people suffering in the world, in greater number or degree.” And the Jewish response is that intense care for one’s family trains us to care for those not in one’s family. And that this is more reliable, than a multidirectional, abstract sense of love and care.
And so today, hearing about the murder of Deah, Razan, and Yusor in Chapel Hill, I’m thinking about the murder of yeshivat students Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali in Gush Etzion this summer. In each case, three students were murdered by hateful violent terrorism. One group is more like me, and practices my religion and my people’s redemptive project of living in the Land of Israel; one group is less like me, with a different religion and probably different political views about Israel.
The Jewish ethical move is to say – my love of Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali, my outrage there and my sense of pain – lead me as well to feel pain, outrage, and concern, about the murder of Deah, Razan, and Yusor. And to feel love as well.
We’re told – protect the stranger, because you were strangers (see Ex. 23:9, from this week’s Torah reading, Mishpatim); protect the oppressed, because you were oppressed. Reach into your own story, and from that place, grow into a person whose love of the other overflows from a love of the near. Love your neighbor–as yourself. The Zohar (Tikkunei Zohar 110b) teaches us: b’itaruta dil’tata, itaruta dil’leyla, which is mystical language for: big things come from small places. In the small places of love for our families, we should feel a hitor’rut, an energizing, for a larger love for the other.