Jew hatred is on the rise in the USA. Or perhaps, it would be more correct to say that noticeable acts of Anti-semitism are on the rise. We all know that Jew hatred has never ceased. It has morphed and shifted and hidden behind various guises: Anti-Zionism, privilege, intersectionality, wokeness etc... And of course, when this Oldest Hate raises its ugly head, our job is to call it out for what it is. We need to take note, to raise our voices.
We are obligated to take a stand and call out the inconsistencies in our culture’s evaluation of Anti-Semitism: the only crime that cancel-culture seems to tolerate. We know the stakes are high, not just for us, but for American society in general. History has borne out a singular truth: Sanctioning Jew hatred has always lead to the moral decay of a nation.
And so we take to our keyboards, our phones and our feeds. We link and share and post and comment. Some of us, have the power of connections to people in positions of power. Some of us have media connections. But in reality, there is the nagging reality of a sense of hopelessness. We know that we are yelling into our own echo chambers with little effect on the views of general society.
How ironic that a people who allegedly control the world media, should struggle to educate this country about the worse calamity in our history. In January this year Pew Research found that: Fewer than half of Americans (43%), know that Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany through a democratic political process. And a similar share (45%) know that approximately 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust.
So we put down our phones and dejectedly close our laptops. We wonder if and when something, anything will change. But at least we’re doing something about it? At least we’re making a noise, doing what we can, how ever small that might be? Right?
I don’t think so.
But before I say more, please,don’t misunderstand me. Anti-semitism is real and evil. And we must do everything in our power to raise awareness, provide education and ensure that our communities are protected. But fighting Jew hatred is not the primary Avoda of our generation.
The Maharal (נצח ישראל פרק יד) explains that all of Jewish history can be divided into two categories. Times when we are in control of our own destiny, and when we are subject to the control of others.
For many generations, we were not in control of our own destiny. Subjugated by the nations of the world, we fought valiantly to preserve Jewish lives and traditions with immense self sacrifice. And despite the countless casualties and tragedies, we have emerged victorious. The Avoda of a generation of subjugation is clear: Fight the Anti-Semites with all of our might; spiritually, physically and politically.
These were the generations of the Exodus from Egypt, of the Destruction of Yerushalayim. Those that fought to survive the Crusades, Tach V’Tat, the Inquisition, the Pogroms and the Holocaust. Their Avoda was fighting Anti-Semitism.
But this is not the Avoda of our generation. We are the generation that comes next: The generation that wandered the desert. Our food might not be provided from Heaven, our water may not be from a rock. But undeniably, we are living in a time of unprecedented prosperity - even with Coronavirus!
So what was the role of the generation of the Midbar? And what is our purpose?
The Ohr HaChaim (במדבר לג:א ועיין בספר ארץ צבי ע׳ קצב) explains: At each station in the Midbar there were internal challenges to overcome. Sure, there were still wars with Amalek, Sichon, Og, Moav and Midyan. But for the vast majority of the forty years in the desert, the Jewish people were working on themselves. They were refining their character traits; becoming better parents, better children, better spouses and better friends. As they travelled from place to place, new issues arose that required them to reign in their tempers, practice empathy and deepen their trust in Hashem.
The Gemara (ברכות י״ז א׳) tells us that after Rabbi Alexandri finished his Sh’moneh Esrei he would add a short Tefillah: “Master of the Universe, we want to do what You want us to do. So who is stopping us? The Yetzer Hara and the subjugation of the nations of the world. Please save us from them.”
That is to say: We face enemies from within ourselves and from without. It is tempting to pour our efforts into fighting Anti-semitism, but that’s the side-bar of our generation. The real work is fighting the enemies within.
The Magen Avraham (או״ח תכח ס״ק ח׳) writes that when we read the beginning of Parshas Masei in Shul, listing the forty-two camps in the desert, we should not break in the middle, but read them through. Why? These forty-two stations allude the forty-two letter name of Hashem. The Sifsei Tzadik of Piltz explains: The character refining challenges of the Midbar brought an immense light of Godliness into world. Each stop was necessary, and by reading them we can learn to traverse our own challenges as well.
This work is not only for those who are politically connected. It is not reserved for the financial elites, or those with powerful social networks. This is the Avoda of each and every one of us. If we want to see an end to Jew hatred, we should fix the brokenness in ourselves so that we can fix the brokenness in the world. And if the world is fixed, then redemption will come.
As Yirmiyahu (ד:א-ב פר׳ רש״י) says at the end of our Haftara:
If you return to Hashem, and if you rid yourself of your dirt, you will escape exile... Then the nations of the world will bless each other to be like you, and their greatest praise will be “to be like a Jew.”