This Fight is Ours Alone
In 1917, when the Balfour Declaration was signed, Torah communities in Europe were in a tizzy. Many celebrated and saw this as the heralding of our final Redemption; the Geulah had arrived! Others, however, ardent opponents of Zionism, viewed the declaration with despair and frustration; concerned that Klal Yisrael was settling for a small piece of redemption at the cost of delaying hopes for the Geulah Sheleima.
Within this confusion, a group of Chassidim approached the Belzer Rebbe, Reb Yissachar Dov Rokeach. Timidly, they asked their Rebbe how they should understand this enormous historical event.
The Rebbe did not answer the question directly. Instead, he opened his Chumash to Parshas Beshalach, detailing the story of the splitting of the Red Sea.
Imagine, he explained, the feeling amongst Klal Yisrael before they arrived at Yam Suf. For three days they marched triumphantly out of Egypt, matzos on their backs, freedom ahead of them, slavery behind them. That is, until they arrive at the Red Sea.
Before anyone could celebrate their new found freedom, the Torah tells us that Paroah was charging at them along with his entire army. Rage in their eyes, and weapons in their hands with renewed fury and unhinged vengeance.
In the terror of that moment, Klal Yisrael turned to Moshe and melted in fear:
!?הֲמִבְּלִי אֵין קְבָרִים בְּמִצְרַיִם לְקַחְתָּנוּ לָמוּת בַּמִּדְבָּר
“Were there no graves in Egypt, that have you taken us away to die in the wilderness!?”
That was their question.
But for us, many generations later, the greater question to ask is why any of this needed to happen at all. As the pesukim describe, Paroah did not decide to chase the nation. Hashem made him do so:
וְחִזַּקְתִּי אֶת לֵב פַּרְעֹה וְרָדַף אַחֲרֵיהֶם...
I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will follow after them...
But why would Hashem do such a thing? There had already been Ten Plagues. The Egyptian economy has been all but eradicated. Hashem's dominance over land, beast, sky, water and people has been irrefutably proven. The Jewish people had already left Egypt! Why would Hashem make Paroah chase them? Why did the story of Yam Suf happen at all?!
The Ibn Ezra (שמות יד:א), the first of the commentators to ask this question, answers in astonishment:
מדרך האמת אין ראוי למשכיל לחשוב על מעשה השם למה עשה כן...ומחשבות השם עמוקות.
It is truly not proper for an intelligent person to scrutinize God’s actions and ask, why did the Lord act thus? ... God’s thoughts are very deep.
The Ibn Ezra concedes that he sees no obvious explanation for Hashem causing Paroah to chase us.
(This point is made even stronger in light of the Rambam's understanding of miracles. For the Rambam, Hashem only does miracles for a purpose. What was the purpose of bringing the Egyptians to Yam Suf only to have the sea part and the Egyptians drown?)
The Belzer Rebbe explained:
As we left Egypt, the Torah tells us that וַיְהִי בְּשַׁלַּח פַּרְעֹה אֶת הָעָם – it was when Paroah set us free. In a certain sense, the purpose of the ten plagues was to convince Paroah and the world that Hashem is in charge. And it worked! In the middle of the night, Paroah chased us out. He set us free.
The Rebbe then concluded: In the deepest way, we will be never be free so long as we think someone else is granting our freedom. The purpose of the ten plagues was for Paroah to free us. The purpose of Yam Suf, however, was for us to finally free ourselves.
His message was clear. We are grateful to the world for giving us permission to return to Eretz Yisrael. But there will come a time where they will revoke their permission. They will challenge our rights to safety, security and self determination. When that day comes, we will need to free ourselves.
Avraham's Battle Plan
This Shabbos, Avraham goes to war. Or rather, he enters himself into a massive international conflict for the purpose of rescuing his nephew, Lot.
When the Torah relates the story of this war, however, Avraham is given a new title: אַבְרָם הָעִבְרִי – Avram the 'Hebrew'.
The Medrash questions the meaning of this title, and explains that Avraham experienced a profound sense of aloneness in that moment, in three different ways:
וַיַּגֵּד לְאַבְרָם הָעִבְרִי – רַבִּי יְהוּדָה וְרַבִּי נְחֶמְיָה וְרַבָּנָן, רַבִּי יְהוּדָה אוֹמֵר כָּל הָעוֹלָם כֻּלּוֹ מֵעֵבֶר אֶחָד וְהוּא מֵעֵבֶר אֶחָד. רַבִּי נְחֶמְיָה אָמַר שֶׁהוּא מִבְּנֵי בָּנָיו שֶׁל עֵבֶר. וְרַבָּנָן אָמְרֵי שֶׁהוּא מֵעֵבֶר הַנָּהָר, וְשֶׁהוּא מֵשִׂיחַ בִּלְשׁוֹן עִבְרִי.
1.Rabbi Yehuda says: The entire world was on one side and he was on the other side [עבר].
He was completely alone against the world. Notwithstanding the fact that he maintained multiple alliances with his friends and neighbors, Avraham knew that no one would fight this fight for him.
2.Rabbi Nechemya said: Because he was among the descendants of Ever.
Avraham had taken upon himself to uphold the traditions of Shem and Ever. He was a member of the tiny society of monotheists in the ancient world. His mission was to educate humanity in the morals and ways of Hashem, and this begins with taking responsibility for our brothers and sisters in captivity.
3.The Rabbis say: It is because he is from the other side [עבר] of the river, and he spoke the Hebrew [עברי] language.
Avraham came from a different world. He spoke a different language. He knew, in the deepest sense, that there was no way that the world as it was would ever understand him. No one would come to his aid, he was completely alone.
Perhaps the Time has Come
We, as a nation, have come a long way since founding our State. Our rise from the ashes of Europe is nothing short of miraculous. There is no greater indication of Hashem's Hand in History than the Modern State of Israel. But I dare say that the time has come to recognize that the next steps of our national journey must be taken by us alone. It is time we stopped grasping for the hands of the world, and we started holding onto Hashem.
Notwithstanding our political alliances – for which we are incredibly grateful – we owe it to ourselves to stop the madness of seeking permission to exist. It is high time we stop living like slaves to western society.
We are still tempted to cry out and beg the world to understand us. We plead with them to explain their insane double standards. We write blogs, share memes and comment on posts.
We ask: Why are the most tolerant and liberal of college campuses such cesspools of anti-semitism? How does such supposed “tolerance” lead to such hatred? Why is it that “BlackLivesMatter” unless they are Jewish? Why do we “BelieveHer” unless she's Israeli?
These questions are as important as they are heartbreaking. But if we are honest, by this point we know that no satisfactory answers will be forthcoming. Not anytime soon.
Of course, this does not mean that we should stop decrying the moral depravity in the world around us, we should continue to protest loud and clear! Perhaps we will be be successful in withholding funding from a Jew hating college, or getting an anti-semite fired from their high power job. But with all of that external activity, there are far better questions that we need to be asking ourselves internally.
Perhaps it's time we ask ourselves: Why are some of us still reluctant or ashamed to wear a kippa and tzitzis in public or at work? Why are we still sending our children to anti-semitic Ivy-League colleges? Why do we allow them to come to college guidance meetings at all? Why are we not making plans to live in the Land that Hashem has promised to us, or at least encouraging our children to do so?
There are thousands of questions we should be asking ourselves, but they all come down to one simple dichotomy: Are we trying to live in a world that “they” made for us, or can we finally say “this is Hashem's world, and I will live like a Jew.”
Avraham Ha'Ivri is reaching across history to tell us that the existence of the State of Israel, Jewish Life and the World of Torah can no longer be dependent on world opinion. We do not need the UN, the EU or even the USA to grant us permission to live as Jews. It's time we left exile on our own.