Breaking Down Barriers – Rabbi Hillel Katzir

“The best way of breaking down barriers between people or communities is through simple, unforced acts of kindness. One act can undo years of estrangement.”- Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom

The most critical of the underlying assumptions of the American experiment in representative democracy is that we will listen to each other, even (especially?) when we disagree, and that we will compromise where we can, and agree to disagree where we can’t.

As I’m sure we have all observed, that underlying assumption is being consumed by the current political climate in this country.

Is religion part of the problem? Yes! Some people of faith, who are convinced that only they know what God wants, condemn and demonize those who disagree with them. When questioned, they are not always able to articulate the religious basis for their views; but they are certain they are right! And if God agrees with them, then any who disagree are not only wrong, but evil!

Can religion be part of the solution? Yes! Every faith tradition teaches a version of the Golden Rule. In Judaism, when a rabbi of two-thousand years ago was asked by a pagan to teach him the entire Torah while standing on one foot (!), the rabbi told him: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to others. All the rest of the Torah is commentary on that – now go study it!”

The above quote from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks says it clearly, as do many passages from the Torah, the Gospels, the Qur’an, and beyond. So simple. So basic.

You may not get the other person to agree with you; but that’s not the goal. The goal is for all of us to live together, and together seek the truth “in the name of heaven,” rather than for personal or political gain.

It’s not so difficult. Go out and perform an unexpected, intentional, radical act of kindness! Who knows where it might lead?

Rabbi Hillel Katzir,
Congregation B’nai Butte, Crested Butte, CO; member
Northern Colorado Faith Leaders Caucus

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