Facing an Ancient Evil

Miraculously, the bullet entered and left Eli’s leg, leaving him only “lightly wounded.” However, the intent was clearly deadly. Although I was calm when I spoke to Eli’s mother, I put down the phone shaking and distressed. Please allow me to share a few reactions to this event.

It is ironic that the Sunday Times Book Review the very next day (November 8, 2015) featured three different stories related to anti-Semitism, always missing the point. In the “letters” section, Dennis Ross, a former American envoy to the Middle East, defends his recent book, Doomed to Succeed, from criticism by the Times reviewer, Scott Anderson. Both author and reviewer agree that Israel needs to do more to create peace with its neighbors. Their only disagreement is in degree, strategy and implementation. Nowhere is there the sense that the Arabs have been indiscriminately murdering innocent people for decades. Nowhere is there a hint of how many times Israel has been willing to give up literally most of the country for peace. Nowhere is there a hint that, whereas they murder wantonly and indiscriminately, we lose our own lives to avoid killing civilians and warn the enemy when we must bomb residential areas, even those rife with terrorists.

Later (page 38), there is an important review of a devastating book about the July 1941 massacre of the Jews of Jedwabne, a Polish town of 3,000, where 1,600 Jewish men, women and children were burned alive by catholic Poles. The cover-up, which blamed Nazis exclusively, while in fact the murders were perpetrated primarily by a Polish mob, was arranged by a combination of the families of the murderers, right-wing politicians, historians, journalists and catholic clergyman. To be sure, “certain morally splendid and heroic Poles” who saved Jews and must certainly be considered chassidei umos ha’olom – righteous gentiles – stand out. However, the sordid story makes clear that the majority of the town participated and at least enjoyed the spectacle of the Jews being beaten and burned to death.

On the very next page, Lynne Olson reviews a new book by Jay Winik condemning Franklin Delano Roosevelt for not doing more to save the Jews. Strangely enough, even after seven decades of evidence to the contrary, Ms. Olson seems unsure of Winik’s conclusion that Roosevelt missed an opportunity for greatness to “imbue World War II with a higher moral purpose…a war against the Final Solution.” Quite dramatically and appropriately, FDR is pictured on the page of the review working on his stamp collection in 1944, an activity to which he seemed to give more time, effort and care than rescuing any Jews from extinction.

How do we understand these ongoing historic phenomena from a Torah perspective? Some will simply answer that Chazal taught us clearly, long ago, “Halachah hi beyodua she’Eisav sonei l’Yaakov – It is a codified rule that Eisav hates Yaakov” (Rashi, Bereishis 33:4), and that is all there is to it. However, there actually is more, which explains much, even though it may not change our lives immediately. First of all, let us pick up where we left off two weeks ago in this column. We learned from my rebbi, Rav Yitzchok Hutner zt”l, that the union of the Mufti and Hitler signaled the joining of Eisav and Yishmoel predicted in the Torah (Bereishis 28:9). Following is, as Paul Harvey used to say, “The rest of the story”:

It is well-known that the rosh yeshiva, Rav Hutner, was one of the passengers on a plane hijacked by Arab terrorists in Elul 5730. Miraculously freed before Rosh Hashanah, the rosh yeshiva gave several maamarim (see Pachad Yitzchok, Rosh Hashanah No. 25 and Yom Hakippurim No. 12) about the function of yissurim, suffering, in our teshuvah prospectus. However, on the second night of Sukkos, the Ushpizin of Yitzchok Avinu, he revealed to us an extraordinary insight he had gained during his ordeal.

Every day, during the hijacking, a parade of terrorists would board the plane, glare at the prisoners and leave. One of them, however, stopped to exchange a few words with the rosh yeshiva. He later commented that he perceived upon the terrorist leader’s face the “princeliness of Yishmoel” (Sefer Hazikaron, page 55). In the sukkah that night, the rosh yeshiva shared the following incredible distinction between Eisav and Yishmoel: “Eisav is a true yoreish. He shares an inheritance with us, because the posuk declares, ‘I have given Eisav Mount Se’ir as an inheritance’” (Yehoshua 24:4). However, concerning Yishmoel, the exact opposite was decreed: “for the son of this handmaiden will not inherit” (Bereishis 21:10). The rosh yeshiva used this distinction to explain why, in last week’s sedra (25:16), the Torah declares that Yishmoel would live bechatzreihem uvetirosam, which the rosh yeshiva translated as the temporary dwellings of the Arab nomad. He concluded that Yishmoel’s obsession with Eretz Yisroel, although he seems to have so much land of his own, is that he retains “the anger of one who has no inheritance, this being the source of all the murder and rage of the Arabs in our time” (see Maamarei Pachad Yitzchok, Sukkos, No. 62). Viewed in this light, the irrational, deeply-rooted hatred of Yishmoel will not be assuaged by a few more acres of land, nor even by being granted a state of their own. Thus, all the political and diplomatic speculation will come to nothing, as the history of the past seven decades has proven.

Yet, strangely, there is an even deeper source for the anti-Semitism that we have been experiencing. The Ramchal (Derech Hashem 4:8:2) writes that “if not for our sins,” we would all experience the promise of the posuk, “And all the nations will see the name of Hashem called upon you and will fear you” (Devorim 28:10). One of the commentaries on the Derech Hashem (written under the guidance of Rav Moshe Shapiro shlit”a) adds the following important comment: “Nevertheless, although we do not see this fear, down deep they subconsciously do fear us…and this is the common denominator of all anti-Semitism” (Eis Laasos, page 454).

If we properly understand this profound insight, we will comprehend all of the phenomena we quoted earlier. First of all, let us call it by its rightful name. Hatred pointed against Jews is simply anti-Semitism. Its roots may vary, but the disease is the same. The Yishmoel hatred for us heralds back to Sarah Imeinu’s decree, later ratified by Hashem that lo yirash, Yishmoel will receive no yerushah. There is therefore no gift or accommodation that will ever satisfy him. What, then, should we do? I will leave that to those who need to make these decisions. But one thing is clear. Further concessions and anything short of giving up all of our land will yield us nothing but more tragedy.

Regarding general anti-Semitism, we learned from the Ramchal and his commentators that the world is well-aware that we are different. For the righteous gentiles, this is a recognition that can lead to wonderful relations, as we act in the guise of an ohr lagoyim, a light and guide unto the gentiles in matters of ethics, morality and many other things. For those who hate us, there is sadly no cure but the coming of Moshiach himself. However, it should be manifest that the more we act in our capacity of teachers to the world, being clearly the finest and best of humanity, we will inspire the gentiles who sense role models and paragons of faith and civility and are willing to become our disciples. This, too, is a harbinger of the Messianic age, which we hope will be ushered in speedily in our days.