Click here to view Tzvi Freeman's photo essay, Torn Together

Two weeks after the release of "Torn Together", the flood of responses is still pouring in through every channel, from voices of the entire political spectrum. Obviously, it struck a chord.

A chord—or a nerve: Most responses were extremely positive, but many were infuriated. So I'll address a few points:


A writer has the power to heal. And since it is in his power, a writer who does not attempt to heal with his words is abusing his art.

In healing, there are two paths: One, by repairing the damaged tissue, the other by nursing and fortifying whatever remains healthy. To paraphrase the Lubavitcher Rebbe, "You can’t help a person until you can see the good in him."

For us Jews, there are three things to keep whole and healthy: Our people, our land and our Torah. When any one of these is weak, the other two are affected. When any one is strengthened, the other two gain wholeness as well.


Yet, of these three, the most critical is our identity as a single people. And today, in Israel, this bastion is under deliberate and ruthless attack. The retreat from Gaza, the treatment meted to its settlers and the arrest and detention of peaceful protestors are all no more than symptoms of this deeper, virulent malady.

Where do you apply your healing to a nation that has succumbed to such a life-threatening disorder? I chose to look for some cells that were still breathing strong. I found them, I found something beautiful in the midst of the burning flames—and that is what I presented.


Some claim that I am fueling the fire by looking beyond its ignominy. These people are falling directly into a set trap. One side shouts, "Fundamentalists!" so the other screams, "Atheists!" One side shouts, "Ultra-orthodox right-wing extremists!" so the other yells back, "Nazi thugs!" Who is winning? Not us, not the Jews.

Do they really expect to heal bruises with rocks, cure ailing tissue with infected needles? That we will bring the Moshiach, peace in the land of milk and honey and all the other goodies by condemning, vilifying and alienating one another?

Do you love the Jewish people? Do you love Jews? If so, I have a suggestion: Go to your friend and say, "It was ugly, this thing that happened between us. I know you feel bad about it, as well." Say that and there's room for conciliation, for healing, for Am Yisrael to live.


I am not a fool or a political troglodyte. I know of what went on, of the most repulsive moments. But I love every soldier of the IDF. When I am there, I go to each soldier I see to thank him and shake his hand for risking his life to protect us in our land.

As for those who were involved in the removal of Jews from their homes, I cannot hold them culpable. Nobody can convince me that they faced a clear decision between right and wrong when our own rabbis were fickle in their decisions.

Were the soldiers justified in removing families from their homes? Should they have refused orders? Even those who honestly believe the disengagement was necessary, cannot fail to admire the integrity of the many soldiers who went to their officers and declared, "I am unable to carry out these orders"--and suffered the harsh consequences: an end to their military career beginning with a month or more in military prison. As for those who could not muster the guts to do so, or who decided they were justified in their actions—I will cry for them, I will mourn and tear my shirt for the destruction that was done by their hands. But I will in no way condemn them. They are my holy brothers and sisters, the defenders of Israel.


Do you need more evidence that beneath the colors of their shirts, the soldiers and the settlers hold a thousand times more in common than they hold apart? If the pictures aren’t enough, let one of the soldiers speak for herself, as she did in a recent letter to a family she helped throw out of its home:

"...For a long time now, ever since that Tuesday in Ganei Tal, I have been walking around with a heavy burden of depression. Something like all the soldiers who took part in the evacuation of Gush Katif and northern Shomron. I suffered a deep emotional wound, and I regret every moment... I am sorry about the whole evacuation process, and I am sorry that I had to stand there opposite you and hold back my tears, even though I felt totally that I am one of you. I am sorry for the misery that was caused to you and to all the other families in your wonderful community...

"I felt at that moment [in your house] hatred and anger to the agencies that sent us on this difficult mission, that made us look like robots towards you, towards great people like you..."


So you ask, whom will I blame? Will I just cover the whole story with candy coating and pretend everything is fine and healthy?

Unless you want to live through life a hopeless pessimist, get this straight: It is not a matter of whom to blame, but of who will listen. Rebuke, the Tanya teaches us, is to be reserved for your dearest confidants and colleagues. If a Jew does not yet carry the yoke of Torah and mitzvahs as you, then you must "pull him with strong cords of love." But, on the other hand, if he is your partner in Torah and may possibly listen-then you must speak to him words from your heart with love and respect, lest you yourself be considered an accomplice in his crime.

So I will say it: If our rabbis had declared clearly and unequivocally that it is forbidden to endanger human life by retreating from terrorists and giving them our land, that the only authorities in this matter are the military and intelligence experts whose warnings were deliberately silenced by those who had become politicians—if our rabbis had spoken out in a unanimous voice—then none of this would have happened.

How can I be so confident? Until a few days ago, I could not. But then we all saw the fate of the synagogues of Gush Katif-how the Supreme Court had already ruled that they must be destroyed by the army and yet the rabbis were successful in overturning their decision. Why were they successful? Because, as one MK put it, "we must defer to a unanimous rabbinic decision."

Such is the power of Torah. Commensurate is the onus upon those that wield its power.


There is a story told in the Talmud-every small child learns it: "Why was the Temple destroyed, Jerusalem set afire and we Jews exiled from our land?" the sages ask. And they respond: "Because of senseless hatred."

And then, do they go on to describe the hatred against the Torah? Against the rabbis? Against religious Jews? No, they continue to tell a story where the rabbis were quiet. They blame themselves.

What were the rabbis quiet about? About a Jew who was invited to a party and then thrown out by his host.

There are parallels, you can see. But they don’t end there. At the conclusion of the entire episode, the sages describe how a rabbinical leader chose inaction rather than making a potentially dangerous decision. "The humility of Rabbi Zera," they conclude, "destroyed the Holy Temple, set Jerusalem afire and exiled us from our land."


That is not where I want to conclude. Rabbi Yehuda Loewe, the famed "Maharal of Prague" asks a simple question on this story: If the malady was the lack of an integral community, a failing of Jews to feel empathy for one other, then how does the cure match the disease? Will spreading us to the four corners of the earth bring us to feel for one another, to feel that we are one?

Yes, he answers. Because if all that makes us one is geographic circumstance—that we are stuck in the same slice of land with each other—that oneness is superficial. To create a true oneness, we had to learn to care for one another no matter where we are, simply because we are Jews.

Wherever we are, we must scream with pain when another Jew is hurt, just as we delight at his time of joy. We must protest loudly when he is dealt an injustice, regardless of who is the oppressor. We must look for whatever good we can find within each one-even those who carry us from our homes-speak about it, fan its flames, bring it to light for all to see.


On Rosh Hashanah, the Rebbe Maharash (Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch, 1834-1882) once said: Hundreds of angels eagerly wait for one Jew to speak some honest praise about another. Why? Because they know well how much the One Above yearns to hear His children’s praise.

If we want a good, sweet year, living together with peace upon the land, I suggest we use our brains before our mouths. In the place of harsh and bitter words, we can use words that heal and give G‑d a little nachas.

There is hope, if only we can learn to look deeper, with a discerning eye.