Are They Coming For Us Next?

In the past few days, we have witnessed nothing short of an invasion of anti-semites into Jewish communities quite similar to our own here in Boca: Toronto, Teaneck and the Five Towns.

To speak broadly, Jews in these neighborhoods do not live insular lives. They are friendly with their non-Jewish neighbors and deeply engaged with their local community. They participate in the western world. For lack of a better term, these are largely “Modern Orthodox” places. Yet, as history has proven, no amount of blending-in will sway they hearts and minds of those who hate us.

I have no idea as to the plans of these antisemites, but I cant help wondering if perhaps protests in Boca are next on the list? And if they arrive in our neighborhoods, how should we react? How will we feel? Naturally, at the back of minds we are all asking what this might mean for our future?

Of course, mainstream news is reporting this as a “spill over” of the Middle Eastern conflict, but we, as a nation, have too much life experience to deny the reality of these events. Millenia of persecution has proven that Jew hatred is never simply about one issue or another. The truth is that there are people here in North America who are, to varying degrees, protesting the very existence and destiny of Klal Yisrael. Our enemies are not simply hoping that we leave Gaza and Jerusalem, but New York, Florida and Planet Earth as well.

In the history of our people, none of this is new. While this anti-Israel movement is only a few decades old, it is only the most recent iteration of the world oldest hate.

Rav Soloveitchik explains that the very nature of anti-Semitism is its evasiveness. It is always shifting, morphing and changing. There is nothing we can do to convince the anti-semite to stop hating us because there is no reason for anti-semitism. There never has been.

The Rav writes: When Yaakov pins his angelic adversary to the ground, he asks “What is your name?”

...And the answer was, “What difference does it make who I am? Whoever I am, I have one mission, and that is to defy you. I am opposed to what you strive for: to come back to Eretz Yisrael and build and develop a people in that land.” (The Lord is Righteous, p. 222)

It is instructive to note that by this point in his life, Yaakov Avinu has been in the house of Lavan for over two decades. Neither Esav nor his Angelic representative cared to engage with Yaakov until he decided to return to Eretz Yisrael. It is not the existence “a Jew” per-se that disturbs the anti-semite. It’s our potential for Jewish self-actualization, autonomy and sovereignty.

Likewise, Rabbi Sacks wrote extensively on the mutating nature of anti-Semitism:

Antisemitism means denying the right of Jews to exist as Jews with the same rights as everyone else. The form this takes today is anti-Zionism. Of course, there is a difference between Zionism and Judaism, and between Jews and Israelis, but this difference does not exist for the new antisemites themselves. It was Jews not Israelis who were murdered in terrorist attacks in Toulouse, Paris, Brussels and Copenhagen. Anti-Zionism is the antisemitism of our time.

Those who hate us see the entire world through those hateful lenses and they feel entirely justified in their perspective. Consider the bizarre irony, that all the previously immutable values of the west have recently been amended to make exceptions for Jews and Israelis. Violating women’s bodies and children’s rights; indeed all the “-isms”, are now permissible in protest of the Jewish nation.

Living Beyond Compression

All of this leads to a fascinatingly difficult truth: Despite all the scholarship, brilliance and erudition of the Jewish people, even a rudimentary understanding anti-semitism escapes us. We certainly have no ability to comprehend the intensity of the hatred directed towards our people.

But if the hatred cannot be understood, can it ever be eradicated? Or are we doomed to suffer the cycles of persecution and exile until we are miraculously redeemed?

As Purim draws close, perhaps we might suggest that our sages were bothered by this conundrum as well. The Talmud (מגילה ז ב) tells us:

אָמַר רָבָא: מִיחַיַּיב אִינִישׁ לְבַסּוֹמֵי בְּפוּרַיָּא עַד דְּלָא יָדַע בֵּין אָרוּר הָמָן לְבָרוּךְ מָרְדֳּכַי

Rava said: A person is obligated to become intoxicated on Purim until he is so intoxicated that he does not know how to distinguish between “cursed is Haman” and “blessed is Mordecai”.

Drinking on Purim is more than an excuse for a party. There is a purpose and a goal that Chazal are addressing head-on. We are to blur our understandings of Haman and Mordechai. But to what end?

The “cursedness of Haman” has always been beyond our capacity to comprehend. We have never and will never understand the extent of depravity and hatred that fuels our enemies. It is irrational, illogical and incomprehensible.

But on Purim, we are obligated to realize that the same is true in the opposite direction. The blessedness of Mordechai – “Baruch Mordechai” – Our capacity for Kedusha, for greatness and goodness is likewise beyond all comprehension. Our potential for positivity is also unfathomably infinite. We have no idea how great we can become.

This is not simply Purim Torah. We are capable and obligated to bring this infinity into our daily lives; even (and especially) in the face of our constant internal and external setbacks.

Achieving the Impossible

Sefer Shemos concludes this Shabbos with the final construction of the Mishkan. Despite the various stages of donating and building over the past five weeks, Chazal (תנחמא פקודי יא) tell us that the completion of the Mishkan was beyond Moshe’s abilities.

אָמַר מֹשֶׁה, רִבּוֹנוֹ שֶׁל עוֹלָם, אֵינִי יוֹדֵעַ לְהַעֲמִידוֹ. אָמַר לוֹ: עֲסֹק בְּיָדֶיךָ וְאַתָּה מַרְאֶה לְהַעֲמִידוֹ וְהוּא עוֹמֵד מֵאֵלָיו, וַאֲנִי כוֹתֵב עָלֶיךָ שֶׁאַתָּה הֲקֵמֹתוֹ.

Moshe said: Master of the Universe, I do not know how to build it. Hashem said to him: Try to do it yourself and you’ll see it will stand up by itself, and I will record in the Torah that you achieved it.

The Tiferes Yosef (פקודי ד”ה ותכל) questions:

The Torah does not lie and yet, Hashem is telling Moshe “if you try to build the Mishkan, I’ll make it happen and give you the credit!?” His point is as simple as it is profound:

כשהאדם עובד בכל כחו, אז חותם השי”ת על כל עבודתו ונקראת על שם האדם

When we do all we can to achieve the impossible, Hashem gives us the green light. He grants us success and give us the credit for achieving it.

If we are witnessing an explosion in irrational hatred, Hashem is inviting us to create an explosion of irrational love. If our enemies are trying to intimidate us, we are obligated to combat them with overwhelming Jewish pride. And if our enemies are denying the Kedusha of Klal Yisrael, it is time to upgrade our Kedusha, Torah and Tefillah.

Perhaps they are coming for us in Boca; perhaps they are coming where ever we may be. So perhaps it’s time that we rise above what we thought was possible and become greater than we ever imagined.

This is Hashem’s final promise of the Book of Exile and Redemption: If we attempt the impossible, He’ll make it happen.