"Thou Shall Not Be Prejudiced"
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen commenting on "Heimishe" Racism :
Do not despise any human being and do not reject anything; for there is no human being who has not his hour, and there is no thing that has not its place." (Pirkei Avos 4:3)
Rav Shlomo Wolbe was a leading sage of Mussar who passed away a few years ago. In an essay titled Klall Olam - the World Community - Rabbi Wolbe guides students of Torah towards a proper relationship with the outside world. A student of Torah, he writes, follows the instructions which are cited in the above teaching from Pirkei Avos. He therefore develops the ability to recognize and appreciate the good in everyone and everything. A Torah student also learns how to recognize that which is not good; nevertheless, when he must criticize someone or something, he does not deny the purpose of that person or object within the creation. The same approach, teaches Rabbi Wolbe, applies to evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of other peoples, as they too have a place and a purpose within creation. Rabbi Wolbe reminds the student of Torah that although we, the People of Israel, have a responsibility to maintain our separate identity and unique role, we also have a responsibility to remember the following truth:
"We shouldn't negate the peoples of the world to say that they have no place in the universe or that their wisdom is not really wisdom; for they were 'created'; thus, without them, the creation cannot reach its goal!" (Alei Shur)
We carry much pain and anger within us as a result of the past and present suffering of our people. In addition, we feel much bitterness over the way most of the world abandoned us during the Holocaust. The current revival of anti-Jewish hatred in many countries is once again causing us to feel isolated and vulnerable. Our feelings are understandable, but we have a responsibility to maintain a balanced Torah perspective regarding the peoples of the earth. As the people of the Torah, we need to remain loyal to the totality of the Torah's vision, including its universal vision for all humankind. I would therefore like to share a story about a prominent Torah educator - a Holocaust survivor - who served as an example of how to respect other peoples in the spirit of the Torah:
Rabbi Binyamin Steinberg was the principal of the Bais Yaakov high school for girls in the city of Baltimore. He was also a close disciple of Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky, a leading Torah sage. In a biography of Rabbi Steinberg titled "A Matter of Principal" by Hanoch Teller, we find various stories about how he educated his students to respect all human beings and all creatures. On one occasion, Rabbi Steinberg entered a classroom and found the teacher very upset. It seems that one of the students has been entertaining her classmates with a derogatory story about a dark-skinned person. When the teacher told him what had happened, Rabbi Steinberg became incensed. He reminded the students that we don't like it when Gentiles make derogatory remarks about us, and he continued:
"A special level of sensitivity is expected from us, the Jewish people. Our people is one that has suffered immeasurably from persecution. Thus we are expected never to speak or act in a way that reflects a lack of sensitivity. We have been enjoined to respect all people and never to forget the suffering that we have endured."
Rabbi Steinberg then reminded the students of the Divine promise to Avraham, "through you all the families of the earth will be blessed" (Genesis 12:3, 26:4, 28:14). And he added the following comments:
"You ask, 'Who cares about all the families of the earth?' Nevertheless, that's what the Torah says...The People of Israel will be a blessing for all the families of the earth. That means the Albanians, the Greeks, the Chinese, the Indonesians, the African Americans - all the families of the earth. That's what it says in my Torah! "