Anti-Semitism is a thing of the past. When the Jews were poor and the Christians were needy back in Europe, the Jews were convenient scapegoats for everything.
When the Jews in the shtetlach were destitute, their neighbors looked down upon them. When the Jews were defenseless and the Christians were illiterate, pogroms would regularly erupt. Jews would be killed, pillaged, beaten and robbed.
Today, with everyone educated, such things could never happen, right? When the Jews spoke their own language and kept to themselves in the old country, their neighbors looked down upon them because they kept apart and did their own thing. Today, Jews are part of society, everyone loves and respects us for our achievements. When we lived in hovels and shanties, we were mistreated and unwanted, but now that we have large, nice homes, we have come a long way. Society no longer abhors us.
We are advanced and with-it. We dress well, live well, shop well, drive nice cars, earn money, and speak the country’s language without an accent. Jews are lawyers, doctors, congressmen, senators, and presidential candidates. We are enmeshed in society. Nobody looks down upon us anymore, viewing us as disloyal parasites. That’s all in the past. No more.
Jews get killed in Israel because the Arabs there want their land. Here we live freely, with all the rights man can desire. Jews get killed in France because Arabs live there and brought their hatred with them. Here, that could never happen.
Admit it. It Didn’t Really Affect You.
By now, we ought to know how fallacious such thinking is. Jews were killed in Pittsburgh just because they were Jews. A Jew was killed in a shul in Poway, California, for committing the sin of being a Jew. But admit it: You were never in Pittsburgh and couldn’t find Poway on a map, so it didn’t really affect you.
Last week’s murder of two Satmar chassidim across the river from New York City hit home, because it happened around the corner. Or did it? How many of us no longer feel safe here? How many of us look over our shoulder when in public? How many stopped wearing their tallis in the street, as prescribed by the Mogein Avrohom for Jews in golus, and how many feel that this is their home and that they can dress as they please because those halachos were written a long time ago and are no longer applicable in our world today?
Listen to this crazy story and think about it, because it’s not crazy at all.
Rebbetzin Zlata Ginsburg was a daughter of Rav Yecheskel Levenstein. She was also the mother of my aunt, Rebbetzin Esther Levin shetichyeh. She was in my parents’ home and told the following story.
When they were still living in Poland before the war, she became ill and was recommended to a specialist in Germany. A young girl, she traveled with her father aboard a train to the German city. All they had was the doctor’s name and address, but they had no idea how to get there.
They asked a German man how to get to the given address. He looked at them and realized that they were foreigners. He told them that it was too complicated to explain, so he would accompany them to their destination.
When they arrived at the doctor’s office, they thanked him profusely for his assistance and he smiled and left. Zlata turned to her father and commented on how gentlemanly the man was and how a Polish person would never have been that courteous.
Rav Chatzkel admonished her and said that if there would be a law to kill Jews, that same gentleman would not hesitate to kill them.
Time would prove how correct he was.
How do we explain the relentless, unfathomable hatred?
If Looks Could Kill
We walk in the street and eyes of hatred follow us. We fly on an airplane and those same eyes of hate are on us. We can’t get rid of them. We go to a park and those same eyes are there. We move in to a new house and those eyes are there. Even in a place of justice, we can’t take anything for granted. If looks could kill, there wouldn’t be many places we could safely go.
We wonder why. We see the world turning against us, as it hasn’t since the Holocaust, and we wonder why. We see the Democrat Party in this country swing against the Jews. The American president is the friendliest ever towards Jews and Israel, yet it is glossed over and haters see him as an enemy of all types of people. He issues a proclamation about fighting rising anti-Semitism on college campuses and is criticized.
Why the hatred? Why the lies? Why is Judaism blamed for the sorry lives of losers? How is it that stereotypes are being strengthened and resurrected instead of going the way of archaic philosophies, capricious and implausible, to be trashed in the dustbin of illiteracy and irrational absurdity?
We don’t like to be reminded that we are in golus. We don’t like to be reminded that it is mipnei chata’einu that we have to contend with wicked people and their hypocrisy. We don’t want to be prompted to realize that the way to halt this double standard is to increase our Torah learning and give more tzedakah to deserving people and causes.
Too many people are so preoccupied with mundane things in life that they resist the need to ponder life in a more serious way. People whose priority is shopping and traveling have a false sense of security. Too many people think that we really belong here.
And then, every once in a while, we get a painful reminder that we are still in golus.
Clips proliferated of people blaming what happened in Jersey City on white supremacists, the government, and of course the Jews.
People wondered what to tell their kids. What to tell your kids? Did you ever tell them before that we are in golus? Did you ever tell them the halacha of Eisov soneh l’Yaakov? Did you ever tell them that we don’t belong here, that we belong in a place far away, with the Bais Hamikdosh at its center? Or did you think that was old fashioned, as today we don’t have to teach kids about such things? After all, everything here is cool and calm and homey.
There are people who buy an apartment in Yerushalayim. People ask them why. Why? Because Yerushalayim is our home, that’s why. Why? Because we belong there, not here. Why? Whose Jewish heart doesn’t feel that its real place is Yerushalayim? Why? Because soon Moshiach will come and they want to have a place in Yerushalayim.
Don’t Ask Why. Ask What?
The Netziv, famed rosh yeshiva of Volozhin, wrote a classic treatise on anti-Semitism. In it, he writes:
“In every generation, the enemies of the Jews are prepared to destroy us and eradicate us from among them, but Hashem mercifully saves us from them. And although in every generation the hatred is not the same and the salvation is different, we need to know that the love that they express for us, even if it lasts a while, cannot last forever, and in every generation, even when things look good and the hatred is buried well, we need to know that it exists and is ready to burst out when Hashem decides that we need to be chastised. It is only when we are totally dedicated to Hashem, as Yaakov was when Lovon sought his destruction, that we are protected from all evil.
“Since this steady hatred is the way of the world, we should not seek reasons to explain why the nations want to destroy us, for they always do. And if we are in a generation when they actually act upon that latent hatred, we do not ask what caused them to act in that way. Rather, we must ask what we did, for Hashem to cause the hidden hatred to now be revealed, and what we did to cause Hashem to be upset with us and unleash those who dislike us.”
Wherever we have been, we have always had to look over our shoulders. Our pursuers have found us during the narrow straits of the Nine Days and the wide berths of chagim and zemanim lesasson. They have found us on Yomim Tovim, Shabbosos, and regular weekdays.
The parsha recounts (35:21) that following the passing of Rochel Imeinu, Yaakov and his sons traveled on, setting up camp near Migdal Eider, where they enjoyed a rare moment of tranquility and relative quiet. Targum Yonasan Ben Uziel writes that this place, “meiholah leMigdal Eider,” is the location from where “Moshiach will reveal himself.”
Yaakov’s rest symbolizes our respite from the bitterness and pain of golus. After the battles, after the wars, after enduring the chicanery of Lovon and the depravity of Eisov, Yaakov merits some tranquility. And so shall we.
Chazal teach at the beginning of this week’s parsha, “Bikeish Yaakov leisheiv beshalvah,” that Yaakov sought to achieve a measure of tranquility in his life. After enduring constant travail, from dealing with his brother Eisov and his murderous wrath to Elifaz robbing him of everything he owned, to escaping to the home of Lovon and facing his thievery and greed, it never ended for him. Each day brought a new round of trouble and daunting nisyonos. Instead of growing despondent, Yaakov looked at each new day as a fresh opportunity to learn more Torah, establish a holy family, and serve Hashem in the ways of his father and grandfather. Thus, he was successful in what he did, fulfilling his mission as he prospered and prevailed.
The pattern of Yisroel bein ha’amim is symbolized by the struggle between Yaakov and the malach of Eisav, which ended when the sun rose. The Torah reports, “Vayizrach lo hashemesh, vehu tzolei’a al yereicho – The sun rose and Yaakov was limping.”
The limp reminded Yaakov of the travails he had experienced throughout his life and overcame. The sun was shining. “Al kein lo yochlu Bnei Yisroel es gid hanosheh.” Therefore, we don’t eat the gid hanosheh, which Eisov’s malach had injured.
By not eating it, we remind ourselves that the torment we endure is a sign of strength and victory. Our enemies can’t defeat us with the force of argument and veracity, so they kill us, hurt us, break our windows, spray swastikas on our walls and graves, and call us demeaning names. We are reminded that it is a sign of strength to be hounded and persecuted, as we have been throughout the ages. We are tested again and again. Our enemies are weak and impotent, and we have the wounds to prove it.
Near Migdal Eider, Moshiach waits to reveal himself. May he do so soon in our days.