Rabbi David Walk, Education Director

Congregation Agudath Sholom | 301 Strawberry Hill Ave | Stamford, CT 06902 (203)-358-2200 www.agudathsholom.org

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Walk Article



Rabbi David Walk 


Recently, I've been studying about Anti-Semitism with a neighbor here in southern Jerusalem.  It's great looking up sources and discussing ideas together. We gleefully describe how miserable our ancestors must have been. My friend is a psychologist who is planning to write an artice on the topic, and our musings are grist for his creative mill. But an interesting thing has happened. We're delving into the exact same material, however, we are arriving at very different conclusions. It's terrific. He's such a nice guy that he doesn't mind being wrong. JK! Baruch Hashem, there's mutual respect for both points of view. Since he's going to write up his opinion, I thought that I'd share my thoughts right here. 

Sadly, the topic of Anti-Semitism could be discussed any time of year. This perversion figures prominently in Chanukah, Purim, and, of course, Tisha B'av. It could also be discussed at any point in recorded history as Father Edward Flannery writes, 'Anti-Semitism is the longest and deepest hatred of human history.' However, my view of this ancient disease derives from the Haggadah. So, that's where we'll begin. 

Ironically, the paragraph which introduces this morbid topic has become a favorite in the Haggadah. That's because of the beautiful tune written by Yonatan Razel, which has come to adorn the following difficult passage: It is this promise which has stood for our ancestors and us. For not only one has risen up against us to destroy us, in each and every generation, they rise up to destroy us. But the Holy One, blessed be He, saves us from their hand. 

This seems like a very disturbing paragraph, but we lift up our cups when we recite it. This 'lifting of the cup of salvation (Tehillim 116:13)' signals that we find this concept uplifting, as when we recite Hallel. So, the custom reflects emphasis on the fact that God saves us every time, rather than the fact that we're always in hot water. Part of me wants to cry out, 'You could save us less often, if You kept us out of trouble better.' But what do I know? 

There is no work of human literature with more commentaries than the Haggadah, and this passage, too, has a plethora of approaches to understand it, but I'd like to limit myself to two modern observers. 

Rav Shlomo Aviner writes: What do they want from us? Why is it that 'not only one has risen up against us to destroy us'? If it were 'only one', then I could give an explanation which is political, psychological, economic or military. But the reality is that 'in each and every generation, they rise up to destroy us. Why?...The Maharal M'Prague writes in his Haggadah, 'They're not against us for any specific cause, that if it were removed their antagonism would disappear. This hatred is essential to their identity.'...(Rav Kook wrote), 'At the time of the Tower of Babel they built the tower to fight God. Today, they don't try to fight God directly anymore. Instead, they fight against the nation which spreads God's word, honor, wisdom and Torah (Orot Yisrael 5:15).' 

Rav Aviner continues: Sometimes they try to give reasons for the hatred, sometimes they don't...Each generation has its own lies. Sometimes, they say we are too rich sucking the lifeblood of the nation; sometimes, they say we're too poor, draining the nation's assets; sometimes, they say we're leftist revolutionaries; sometimes, they say we are imperialist capitalists; sometimes, they say we're strange and different, wearing funny garments; sometimes, they say we are assimilating into every corner of society...They're all against us...One time in the UN, the only nation who voted together with Israel was a small island nation in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Micronesia. No one really knows where Micronesia is, but it's nice to know that somewhere there is Micronesia...But the Master of the Universe is with us, always. 

It's fascinating that the true descendant of Amalek comes in so many guises. Rav Jonathan Sacks in his Haggadah agrees, and points out, 'Antisemitism is not a belief but a virus. The human body has an immensely sophisticated immune system, which develops defenses against viruses. It is penetrated, however, because they mutate. Antisemitism mutates (p. 36).' He then goes on to give some suggestions for why antisemitism exists, projected guilt, scapegoat, displaced fear, but settles on 'Jews were hated because they were different.' This is true, and is eternal. When we stop being different, we stop being Jewish. The fate of many Jews throughout history. I'd bet the farm that we've lost more of our brethren to assimilation than to the sword, if I had a farm. 

This difference is essential and, perhaps, even definitional. The gentile prophet, Bilaam, proclaimed that he had extraordinary powers of observation, and he used that talent to declare: From atop the crags do I see them, and from the heights do I gaze upon them. Look, a people that dwells apart, amongst the nations it is not reckoned (Bamidbar 23:9-10). It's been often debated if this statement was a blessing or a curse. I don't know, but it is our fate. We must embrace it.  

The Haggadah story is about growing great within another society and never being absorbed. This paragraph, VE'HI SH'OMDA, assures us that Egypt was just the template. This experience is the recurrent theme of Jewish history. Rav Aviner wrote his comment on the Megilla. Esther only becomes the hero of Purim when she accepts this reality, and so must we. 

As I was becoming observant, when it was still a new experience to wear a KIPPA in the street. I walked by a ball field, it matters not at all where (The Bronx), and one of the young people playing ball screamed, 'Hey, Jew!' It was a shock to my nouveau frum system, but I quickly regained my composure, and yelled back, 'Thank you!' At that instant, I realized I'll always be different, and concluded VIVE LA DIFFERENCE. Chag Sameach.