Tuesday, Jun 11, 2024

The Ambassador, J Street, Yeshaya Hanovi and Chanuka

One of the most iconoclastic and potentially consequential nominations President-elect Donald J. Trump has made so far is that of David Friedman to serve as United States Ambassador to Israel. While there has been excitement in the Orthodox Jewish world, the Five Towns where he lives and in many circles tired of President Barack Obama’s glaring hatred of Israel and its democratically elected leaders, there is virtual panic in the paranoid world of the left. I am particularly interested at the moment in the horrified reaction of the left-wing lobbying organization known as J Street. They have already posted a petition aimed at convincing senators to vote against the nomination, contending that Friedman “poses a threat to longstanding US policies in the Middle East which have been supported by Democratic and Republican presidents alike.” Actually, they are correct that Mr. Friedman, apparently supported by the President-elect, would reverse US policy, despite the promises of many presidential candidates to do so and move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Yerushalayim. However, why Jews who claim to be supporters of Israel should find this “dangerous” is difficult to understand.

What is, however, easier to understand is that they are offended by what Mr. Friedman has written about them in the past. He has said as follows: “Are J Street supporters really as bad as kapos? The answer is actually no. They are far worse than kapos, Jews who turned on their fellow Jews in the Nazi death camps. The kapos faced extraordinary cruelty and who knows what any of us would have done under those circumstances to save a loved one. But J street? They are just smug advocates of Israel’s destruction delivered from the comfort of their secure American sofas – it’s hard to imagine anything worse.”

I don’t blame J Street for being offended, but I do blame them, by their own admission on their website, for visiting Yasser Arafat’s tomb. They claim that they did not visit to “pay respects,” but to learn. But I must wonder what one can possibly learn there that cannot be obtained from objective research. I do blame them for condemning Israel, after returning Gaza to our sworn murderers, after our enemies shot tens of thousands of rockets at the people who gave them beautiful orchards and gardens, for calling Israel’s protection of its citizens “escalation and counterproductive.” This is an organization that, in its own words, is pro-Israel?

All of this being said, I believe that it is time to define what J Street represents, in Torah terms, especially in these last glorious days of Chanukah. The novi Yeshaya (49:17) thunders, “Your ruiners and your destroyers will emerge from you (mimeich yeitzei’u).” These latter two words are also translated as “will leave you,” which many gedolim (Rav Dovid Soloveitchik, Shiurei Rav Meshulam Dovid, Drush Ve’aggadah, page 350; Chofetz Chaim, Yasher, page 451) see as a positive prediction that they will eventually simply give up and leave the nation.

However, over the centuries and millennia, this posuk has come to be understood as a warning against our internal enemies, who are ultimately more dangerous than the external ones with spears, guns, and lately rockets and bombs. Although we generally attribute this plague of meharsayich umacharivayich to our spiritual would-be destroyers from within, such as the Tzedukim, Haskalah, Reform and now Open Orthodoxy, these blood-relative adversaries, the spawn of the prototypical self-hating Jew, George Soros, are now attacking our connection to Yerushalayim and all that is dear to our nation.

Rav Dovid Cohen (Maaseh Avos Siman Labonim 1:42; 2: 275) has actually delineated the names of many of these antagonists, and indeed some them have been enemies in ruchniyus and others in gashmiyus. Some of these are Freud, Lenin, Marx, Trotsky and even Tourquemada, the bloody mass murderer of the Spanish Inquisition. Rav Cohen further contends, based upon a ruling of Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky zt”l, that even those who only had a Jewish father and were therefore not halachically Jewish may be included in the appellation of mimeich yeitzei’u. According to this p’sak of Rav Kamenetzky, we must be all the more vigilant in recognizing these threats to Am Yisroel, since they may have “some Jewish blood,” although they are not technically part of the nation.

What is the Chanukah connection? There is a seemingly shocking equation made between Am Yisroel and Yavan, the Greek empire. In Al Hanissim, there is a special stress upon our being Hashem’s children – ba’u vonecha. Yet, the novi Zecharya (9:13) states unequivocally, “I will stir up your children O Tzion against your children, O Greece.” Many contemporary gedolim, including my rebbi, Rav Yitzchok Hutner zt”l (Pachad Yitzchok, Chanukah 6:2,17), Rav Yeruchem Olshin (Yerach Lamoadim, Chanukah, page 348), Rav Osher Weiss (Minchas Osher, Chanukah, Page 135), and Rav Dovid Cohen (Chevron, Yemei Chanukah, Maamar 13) all see the Misyavnim/Hellenized Jews phenomenon as fulfilling the prophesy of “veradu bachem soneichem – those who hate you will subjugate you” (Vayikra 26:17), which Chazal (Toras Kohanim 8:2) interpret as “I will set up foes against you from within your very ranks.” As a number of these seforim conclude, the Yevanim wanted to rob us of our coveted title as bonim laMakom, the exclusive children of Hashem. Because of the spiritual downfall of the Misyavnim and the lure of Greek culture and philosophy, we were indeed in danger of losing this noble honorific. It was the Chashmonaim who restored it when they purified the Bais Hamikdosh through their mesirus nefesh. Thus, they, and now by extension us, are once again called “ba’u vonecha.”

One of the greatest poskim of our generation formulated this same concept from a Medrash (Yalkut Shimoni 148) in the parshiyos we are now reading. Yosef was about to have Shimon arrested in front of the rest of the shevatim. Knowing Shimon’s strength, he sent for seventy of Paroh’s strongest warriors and ordered them to place chains around Shimon’s neck. As they approached, Shimon let out one loud bellow, knocking them all down. Yosef then turned to his son Menashe, who was standing next to him, and instructed him to take over. Menashe landed one blow and was able to chain his uncle. Shimon, however, retained the presence of mind to comment, “That is a whack from the house of our father.” Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt”l (Divrei Aggadah) comments: “This is the sign for all generations. Even when seventy nations cannot touch us, one Jew can knock us to the ground. Woe is to the Jew when he has to face his enemy who is a brother. Menashe represents, as his name signified, the forgetting about one’s ancestral home. When a Jew forgets from whence he has come and he cannot remember all he learned from his father, it can result in the worst of disasters. Rav Elyashiv is warning us that as long as we remember our roots, no one can hurt us. It is only when we seek foreign teachings, cultures and influences that we become vulnerable.

The Pardes Yosef (42:24) concludes on the positive side, “Klal Yisroel may be isolated as a lamb amongst 70 wolves, but if one Shimon, who represents Am Yisroel, lifts his voice in prayer, they will all fall before him. On the other hand, if the peril is from within, we could be in grave danger (see also Ohel Moshe, Mikeitz, page 871). Indeed, the Vizhnitzer Rebbe (Divrei Elokim Chaim from Rav Moshe Yehoshua Hager, page 131) reinterprets mimeich yetzei’u in this situation as “they must be removed lest they become enabled to cause great harm to our brethren.”

The Satmar Rebbe zt”l (Divrei Yoel, Shemos, page 87) gives us both mussar and chizuk in this matter. He admonishes us that in every generation our gentile enemies attempt to enlist gullible and pliable Jews to fight their battles, for they know that they cannot win without them. This was Paroh’s ploy when he brought in the Jewish midwives to destroy the Jewish babies. However, he did not count on their righteousness and courage, and of course we triumphed through them and grew ever stronger. The Rebbe reminds us that it is up to us to be as strong and brave as Yocheved and Miriam.

Rav Elya Meir Bloch zt”l (Peninei Daas) is also optimistic that we will be victorious over these enemies from within. He understands the words mimeich yeitzei’u to mean that “these deviants will not remain long, for they are fickle, but Klal Yisroel will always have dedicated young people who are willing to stand up for what is right and follow the Torah’s guidelines.”

What is the answer to this problem with J Street and their ilk? The Klausenberger Rebbe zt”l (Shefa Chaim, Rava Deraavin, page 214) diagnoses the problem and the antidote pops up immediately. “When one watches the fools of the Eirev Rav,” he reveals, “the enemy from within is exposed for what he is, empty and rudderless. It is no wonder that he has no direction and does not know what to say or do, for without Torah he is lost and therefore pronounces evil to be good and good evil.” Obviously, the only cure is Torah. When we see ignorance and foolishness on the part of our own, we must teach them Torah and fight with the power of Torah and with the light of Torah. Let us borrow from these last few Chanukah lights, especially the double power of Shabbos Chanukah, to fortify ourselves with kedushah and Torah to triumph in the contentious times ahead.

Ah freilichen, lichtigen Shabbos Chanukah.



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