Thursday, Apr 11, 2024

The Dual Sides of Anti-Semitism: An Adar Perspective

 

As everyone knows by now, we are all mired in the deep quagmire of world anti-Semitism. It seems as if there is no country or city that is immune. Danger lurks everywhere. Those who once sought safety in the hallowed halls of academia have suffered threats, beatings, humiliation and near death. Political leaders, diplomats, progressives and so-called moral leaders have been sullied by their own once-clean but now bloody hands. This is, of course, horrific, but, according to our sages, in our own long-range best interests. Perhaps this is shocking news to some, but in these days of Adar, it is part of the vocabulary of the day.

Chazal have always invoked the terrifying days when Haman was in power as the fast lane to Klal Yisroel’s teshuvah: “Rebbi Eliezer said, ‘If Klal Yisroel repents, they shall be redeemed.’ Rebbi Yeshoshua responded, ‘And if they don’t, they will not be redeemed? [Yes, they will, but] Hakadosh Boruch Hu will set up against them a king whose decrees will be as onerous as those of Haman, and Klal Yisroel will repent and return to virtue’” (Sanhedrin 97b). Haman and Purim have always been the paradigm of horrific peril that has faced us, forcing us do teshuvah, thus leading to salvation.

It has been noted almost interminably since Shemini Atzeres/Simchas Torah that the Hamas pogrom was the worst attack since the Holocaust, Churban Europa. If that is indeed the case, it behooves us to respond to this warning of Chazal with the same kind of teshuvah that we achieved to triumph over Haman. In fact, Rav Chatzkel Levenstein (Ohr Yechezkel, Darkei Ha’avodah, page 101) derives from Rabbeinu Sadya Gaon (Emunos Vedei’os, Maamar 8) that there have always been two possible deadlines for the geulah. The best was that if we would repent without too much divine intervention, the redemption would come rapidly and painlessly. But if we did not, it could not come while we were contaminated by our sins. Hashem would then have to intervene by placing us under the heel and power of anti-Semitic leaders who, unknowingly but surely, coerce us into a national teshuvah such as occurred on Purim.

Thus, anti-Semitism must be seen as a dual force. On the one hand, it is promulgated and instituted by hateful and evil people who want to destroy us. But on the other, the Master of the Universe is pulling the strings and manipulating events so that we should emerge purified, pristine and ready to serve Hashem in freedom and happiness. The power of free will is such that those who committed the dastardly acts will be punished, because that is what they wanted to do. But on the other, we must know, believe and act upon the fact that Hashem has brought this about for our ultimate benefit. As the Ramban wrote of Paroh and the Egyptians, man’s free will never frees him from the punishment of the Al-mighty, who knows why the evil sink so low. But for us, the totality of the picture is something for which to be thankful to Hashem.

Lest we think that this picture is too bleak in general, let alone for Adar Sheini, let us listen to the wise and positive words of Rav Yechezkel Roth (commentary to Megillas Esther, page 141): “When our enemies arise in each generation to attempt to annihilate us, we should place before our eyes what happened to Mordechai and Esther. If the laws of nature had succeeded, they had no chance of survival. However, Hashem helped them and they triumphed. In each generation, then, if there is a despot as evil and apparently omnipotent as Haman, we should not despair. We need only turn back to Hashem, change our ways, and the decree will be nullified and melt away of its own.” In other words, as bad as it has ever been for us, there was never a decree of total annihilation r”l by people who had the power, means and motivation to do so, as was the case with Haman and Achashveirosh. Yet, it was turned into our triumph and finest hour.”

The Kli Yokor at the end of this week’s sedrah (Pekudei) goes even further. He reminds us that the fates of the first and second Botei Mikdosh were entirely in our hands and they were both destroyed because of various sins (see Yoma 9b). However, the third Bais Hamikdosh will come about even if we don’t repent at all. He cites the Gemara that Moshiach will come in a generation that is completely perfect or completely evil. This means, he reveals, that either the Bais Hamikdosh will arrive even though we are still imperfect or Hashem will force us to do teshuvah. Either way, it may not be because of our merits at all. It will simply be the Divine will that the time has arrived. Although we certainly hope and pray that we are found worthy, it is assuring to know that we will not be rejected because of our spiritual limitations.

Rav Yeruchom Levovitz, the mashgiach of the Mir (see Daas Torah, Vayikra) records that an American once said to him that the Hitler phenomenon couldn’t happen there. Rav Yeruchom responded that this was both a foolish and heretical statement. History has now unfortunately vindicated his prediction. It is happening here, and it is occurring in the so-called bastions of civility and culture such as Harvard University. He went on to say that, evil as it is, Hitlerism is not unnatural. It is the way of the world. Interestingly, it is in Esther Rabbah (10:11) that we find the famous phrase, “One lamb amongst the seventy wolves.” The tragedy is itself the greatest source of solace, because in the end, Hashem always saves and protects us from the genocide that, ironically and wickedly, is being imputed to us instead of to our enemies. But in every generation, we have our heroes and role models to teach us and help us return to our faith.

In this particular war, horrific though it still is at this writing, with babies still being held hostage and other atrocities, something new has occurred. In previous times, communications and travel did not allow for the almost instant sending of rations and religious items such tefillin and tzitzis to soldiers who might have been uninterested anyway. Now, almost all members of the IDF are clamoring for mitzvah objects and to be taught how to perform the commandments. I can remember Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach crying bitter tears over the fact that so great a part of the Israeli public was woefully ignorant of their traditions and mitzvos. Now, the kiruv movements are swamped and they can’t even keep up with the demand for these chafeitzei kodesh.

The author of the Devar Avrohom, the Kovna Rov, who lived through the Nazi era, used to say that when some Jews are in trouble and others seem to be tranquil, that is the time for every individual to see himself as being afflicted as well. That is the meaning of both mishloach manos and matanos la’evyonim, which both unify the nation and give us merits with which to triumph. Adar is the time when we can shine not despite tzaros in Klal Yisroel, but because of them. The anti-Semites don’t realize it, but they are driving Klal Yisroel closer together than ever, which leads us to both teshuvah and the achdus we require for geulah.

Thus, when Hashem sends us terrible situations that break our hearts, we must realize that this is to change us, purify us and ready us for geulah. Our enemies deserve no credit for this at all, but we must thank Hashem for caring enough about us to force and manipulate us into improving. When Adar comes, it must be nichnas – enter –into us, so that we emerge different and better. As Rav Chatzkel tells us, in a leap year, the second Adar merges with Nissan to create a double geulah. May we use each opportunity to bring about the geulah sheleimah bimeheirah b’yomeinu.

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