Rabbi David Walk
Nobody likes me; everybody hates me; I'm going to eat a worm. Except for the non-kosher ending to that ditty, it well describes Jewish history. We need a replacement for 'worm', maybe p'tcha, a sort of hoof soup. I always found that gross enough to fit the bill. In my opinion, everyone goes through a 'why does everyone hate me' period. I'm still emerging from mine. Eventually most of us get over it. Soon me, too, please! However, the Jewish people continue to suffer from this phenomenon. Especially for those of us living in countries like the United Sates where Jews have been well integrated into the fabric of society, this is a wonderment. Why does Anti-Semitism continue to thrive is a conundrum which eternally baffles most Jews. This week as we read the portion in the Torah about our nemesis Amalek, called Parshat Zachor, it is a good time to explore this issue. I'll try to put this problem into historical context and deal with, perhaps, its most famous manifestation, Haman in the Purim story.
Maybe the easiest way to deal with this issue is through longevity. We continue to have enemies because we continue to live on to fight another day. Every other nation meets its Waterloo, and disappears into the mists of time. This answer is not all that satisfying, but it does put the thirty-eight hundred year history of our clan in some perspective. So, if we have a villain or two per century it does add up.
I think that Harav Shlomo Aviner, the rav of Beit El and the Rosh Yeshiva of Atteret Cohanim, asks the essential question very well. This is approximately what he says: This is truly a heavy question. What do they want from us? Why is it that the Hagada states that not only one has risen against us to destroy us, rather in every generation they rise up to destroy us?' If there were just one, then we could give a political, economic, psychological or strategic explanation. However, since they rise up every generation to destroy us, then we must ask why? It could be that the Hagada by referring to Lavan (Arami oved avi) is telling us that they resent us because we enriched them, as Ya'akov did for Lavan The Maharal M'Prague suggests that we have opponents whose opposition isn't for any logical reason or problem that if it were solved or went away they would stop hating us. On the contrary, their hatred is basically just because we're Jewish. Maimonides, on the other hand, wrote in his Letter to Yemen that the war against the Jews is essentially a war against God. It says in Psalms: against God and the anointed one (2:2) and in the Torah: For there is a hand against the throne of the Eternal, that there shall be a war for the Lord against Amalek from generation to generation (Exodus 17:16). Since they can't fight directly with God, they fight against the nation which disseminates the word of God, the glory of God and the Torah of God.
The interesting phenomenon is that sometimes the Anti-Semites admit that they hate us for some philosophical reason, but usually they don't. There is generally an underlying dishonesty or hypocrisy about Anti-Semitism. Sometimes they claim that we are Communists, other times capitalists; sometimes they claim we are anarchists destroying society, other times that we are conservatives prevented change in society; sometimes they claim that we are outsiders with no involvement in society, other times that we control the media and apparatus of society. There is no consistency in their venom. This reality is clearly pointed out in the Megilah. During the banquet at the beginning of the book it says: By the king's command each person drank according to their own beliefs, there was no coercion (Esther 1:8). However, when Haman is making his pitch to Achashveirosh, he claims: There is a certain people dispersed and scattered among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom whose beliefs are different from those of all other people and who do not obey the king's laws; it is not in the king's best interest to tolerate them (3:8). Well, which is it? Did the government tolerant any belief system or did they want uniformity? The answer is they didn't want Jews.
This, of course, gets us to the crux of the matter. I think the point of the concept of Amalek is that we always have enemies, but trying to discover the nature of the enmity is a difficult project, because it is a moving target. Every historical era gets the Amalek appropriate to the time, place and predilections of the Jews. I believe that's what the line from the Hagada means. In each and every generation there arises those who want to destroy us. The 'each and every generation' means calibrated to the issues which that generation is dealing with. A generation which faces assimilation has an Amalek who hates us for this; a generation which stays totally aloof has a Haman who hates us for that. That's how it goes.
In our age, we have different enemies for those of us in the Diaspora, an another set for those living in the land of Israel. One group hates us because we live amongst them; another despises us because we have our own land again. Does that mean that we can't win? No! It just means that we must continue to struggle. This struggle for survival is expressed in terms of the obstacles we must overcome. Those obstacles are called Amalek, Haman, Hitler or whomever.
I guess we could live for a certain amount of time without enemies, if we were willing to stand for nothing, but that's not in our genes. We will always stand up for the principles which have kept our nation alive and thriving for millennia and that brings out the beast in those who can't abide those principles.
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