When we picture a villain, we might have a tendency to peg him or her as a sadistic, cruel, and violent character, most often the exact opposite of a hero. These expectations are usually shattered by the great literary and cinematic villains. One of the most popular motifs for villains is that they share a great deal in common with the hero. They are often family, ex-friends, or even best of friends. Very little sets them apart. The infamous Hannibal Lecter, renowned psychiatrist and serial cannibal, sends chills up the spines of readers and movie watchers. Most unnerving is the realization of the similarities he shares with the protagonists of the Silence of the Lambs series. Both have a knack for empathizing with and thinking like psychopaths. We find this playing out in Raiders of the Lost Ark, with the Nazi nemesis Belloq. He informs Indiana Jones that: “You and I are very much alike. Archaeology is our religion, yet we have both fallen from the pure faith. Our methods have not differed as much as you pretend. I am but a shadowy reflection of you. It would take only a nudge to make you like me. To push you out of the light.” These compelling villains teach us a very important lesson. We are much more alike to those we deem our enemies than we are comfortable admitting.
We like to believe in the old adage that “like attracts like,” so we cling to those around us who are like minded, the same religion, the same colored skin, and most certainly, the same political orientation. Such a mindset seems commonplace, and perhaps is natural, yet at the same time, unhealthy for our society. Politics are dividing our country, our communities, and yes, politics divide our families, sometimes even within the same households. The question that we need to ask ourselves is whether our opposing politics make us irreconcilably different? The task at hand is for us to figure out how we can remain brothers, stay connected in community, and unite as Americans together.
Today is going to be one of the most scary days for our country. It’s not because of who might win the presidential election, but because of how Americans might react notwithstanding the winner. More than the fear of any one candidate winning, I fear the divide between Democrats and Republicans will fracture beyond repair. Can we remember that we are more alike than different? Or will our differences be too great of a wedge?
Throughout the book of Genesis, we are reminded of this kind of divide between family.
וַֽיְהִי־רִ֗יב בֵּ֚ין רֹעֵ֣י מִקְנֵֽה־אַבְרָ֔ם וּבֵ֖ין רֹעֵ֣י מִקְנֵה־ל֑וֹט וְהַֽכְּנַעֲנִי֙ וְהַפְּרִזִּ֔י אָ֖ז יֹשֵׁ֥ב בָּאָֽרֶץ׃
And there was quarreling between the herdsmen of Abram’s cattle and those of his nephew Lot’s cattle.
אַל־נָ֨א תְהִ֤י מְרִיבָה֙ בֵּינִ֣י וּבֵינֶ֔יךָ וּבֵ֥ין רֹעַ֖י וּבֵ֣ין רֹעֶ֑יךָ כִּֽי־אֲנָשִׁ֥ים אַחִ֖ים אֲנָֽחְנוּ׃
Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, between my herdsmen and yours, for we are brothers (Genesis 13:7-8)
Abram’s solution though, seems quite unnerving and not how we should deal with familial differences. He says to his nephew Lot:
הֲלֹ֤א כָל־הָאָ֙רֶץ֙ לְפָנֶ֔יךָ הִפָּ֥רֶד נָ֖א מֵעָלָ֑י אִם־הַשְּׂמֹ֣אל וְאֵימִ֔נָה וְאִם־הַיָּמִ֖ין וְאַשְׂמְאִֽילָה׃
Is not the whole land before you? Let us separate: if you go north, I will go south; and if you go south, I will go north (Genesis 13:9).
Will it take a geographic separation between family for us to remain peaceful? Must some of us go live in the South, while others live in the North? I suppose this is a better solution than the previous familial strife we see in the Torah between Cain and Abel. Genesis overflows with familial discord. Brothers are continually split apart because of their differences. There’s Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, and Joseph and his brothers. While there are moments of reconciliation in each of these cases of fraternal enmity, brothers nonetheless forget that they are family. They ignore the bonds that should unite them despite their differences.
We are living Genesis! We are living the great divide of brothers and sisters. My hope is that we not emulate the experiences of our biblical ancestors who unravel their familial fabric. In the book of Genesis, our ancestors eventually adopt the tribal name of Bnai Yisrael, The sons of Israel. Their bond is that they share the same father. Only in Exodus are they called Am Yisrael, The people of Israel. Only then do their differences become irrelevant compared to what they share in common.
How do we stop quarreling as siblings and learn to be a united nation? How do we stop seeing ourselves as factions of Democrats and Republicans? When will we be able to start seeing the commonality of being Americans? You might call these questions the thinking of a dreamer. Surely, it’s too idealistic to think that Antifa and White Nationalists will play nicely in the same sandbox. But I’m less concerned about the extremes. I’m focused on the fixable animus between brothers and sisters, and not the fusion of polar opposites.
I don’t believe that liberals and conservatives are as insoluble as oil and water. We are similar folk who happen to disagree on select issues. What is it that really separates us, after all, other than opinions about who should be taxed more; whether or not universal healthcare is viable; whether or not we should have stricter gun control; how to handle the coronavirus; and how much to allocate to military spending. These issues stand as significant topics that our country must grapple with, but at the cost of oversimplifying our country’s political agenda, these issues should not effect the way that we form meaningful relationships with each other. Communities are strengthened through their diversity, not through their homogeneity. We are more alike than we think, and we can realize this by seeing past our self-proclaimed labels, and by stepping out of our social comfort zones.
Are we truly all that different? How many of you have stopped talking to a friend because of their conservative politics? How many have deleted a Facebook friend because of their liberal politics? How many of you have found your important relationships damaged by opinions about this election? How many of you don’t talk to anyone who votes differently than you do? And if you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, I would follow up by asking: “How’s all working for you?” It might feel good to be right and morally superior, but I promise you that it’s not as good as the feeling of having a loving family and solid relationships.
This is the time for us to dig down and uncover the values that will guide us through the unrest. Our Torah teaches us to embrace the stranger, and welcome those who you perceive to be different than you. This includes, I believe, people of different political orientations. Our obligations are not only to those who are like us, but more importantly, to those who we differ from. It is only when our country recognizes this, that we will be able to strengthen our nation once again. There is much more that unites us than divides us, but it will take a recalibration of our focus and efforts to reunify all that has fallen into disarray.