וַיִּשְׁמַע אֱלֹהִים, אֶת-קוֹל הַנַּעַר, וַיִּקְרָא מַלְאַךְ אֱלֹהִים אֶל-הָגָר מִן-הַשָּׁמַיִם, וַיֹּאמֶר לָהּ מַה-לָּךְ הָגָר; אַל-תִּירְאִי, כִּי-שָׁמַע אֱלֹהִים אֶל-קוֹל הַנַּעַר בַּאֲשֶׁר הוּא-שָׁם.
“And Hashem heard the voice of the youth, and an angel of Hashem called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her: ‘what troubles you, Hagar? Do not fear, because Hashem heard the voice of the youth from where he was.’” (Bereishit 21:17, my translation and emphasis)
Though the parsha in which this verse appears is far off, the message behind it is applicable at all times throughout the year, and so I wanted to speak about it as I leave Pardes and Israel, rather than waiting for parshat Vayeira. Like last year, I am leaving Pardes with a specific idea stuck in my mind that I hope to keep with me. This one comes from my Peace and Conflict class, where this passuk, and specifically the bolded words, are used in a drash (interpretation) as a tool of engaging in dialogue. Just as Hashem approached Yishmael (Ishmael) “from where he was” — truly a translation that does not get at the depth of meaning of the original Hebrew — so too must we aim for approaching the other in dialogue from their own space. As Rabbi Yitz Greenberg eloquently put it in describing his own personal journey along this path here (download the article), we cannot hope to make positive change in our lives and the lives of others if we approach dialogue with the goal of changing others to see the world through our lens. It is only through approaching dialogue with a genuine openness to changing your own outlook on the issue(s) under discussion that one can hope to grow and learn. Or, as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks put it in Dignity of Difference:
“The test of faith is whether I can make space for difference. Can I recognize God’s image in someone who is not in my image, whose language, faith, ideals, are different from mine? If I cannot, then I have made God in my image instead of allowing him to remake me in his.”
Specifically, this lesson has been hardest to incorporate for me when engaging in dialogue with those whose views on Israel and its role as a safe haven for Jews everywhere differ from mine. I believe that this difference comes from my being born after the major existential threats that have faced the young state of Israel have past, and Israel’s (relative) security was more guaranteed. That is why this lesson is especially important, as I need to challenge myself to approach such conversation partners באשר הם שם — where they are coming from, namely a life lived, in part or mostly, with Israel not being the firm reality it has been for me. So, as I head home, on to whatever challenges and dreams life brings next, I hope to keep this lesson at the forefront of my mind as I engage in dialogue with a host of ‘others’ — especially at the Cambridge Interfaith Programme that I will be attending this summer.