As a rabbi I do my very best to try to offer some sort of perspective from a Torah lens when big things happen in the world. I usually try to do this in a timely fashion. Much that goes on is so utterly disturbing and confusing, that sometimes looking it from a Jewish perspective can indeed be very comforting.
But sometimes, nothing really comes to mind in the immediate aftermath of a difficult world event. Unfortunately, often there is simply nothing to say. Nothing I can possibly say will better help me, or anyone else, understand what is going on.
This is exactly what happened after last week’s insurrection at the Capital. The best I could come up with, is what I posted on Facebook: “May G-d help us all.” The last time I felt a similar total inability to respond was after the Massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh a few years ago.
One very jarring takeaway for me was the blatant anti-Semitism that was on display at the Capital. Whether it was the lovely man with the “Camp Auschwitz” sweatshirt, the Israeli journalist getting harassed by one of the domestic terrorists, or the Nazi salute depicted here, the hateful anti-semitism was on on display for all to see.
After seeing the anti-Semitism advanced by the likes of Louis Farrakhan and celebrities who echoed his hateful words, this stings even more.
They hate us from the far Left, and they hate us from the far Right. Everyone, it seems, hates us.
My whole life, I always had the thought, “it could never happen here. We are too sophisticated. We are too modern. We are too advanced. We are safe here.”
But throughout our Diaspora, basically in every single country the Jews ever lived in over the past 2000 years, at one point or another, they said the same exact thing. And pretty much every single time, there came a time when that dreaded moment arrived– whether coerced by force, or willingly, inevitably, there came a point where they simply had to leave. Ask the Jews of Spain, Iran, Iraq, Germany, and Yemen, to name but a few. The Jews had significantly longer “runs” in those places than we have had in America. They lived with an abundance of affluence and prestige, only to eventually be forced to witness it all crumble down before their very own devastated eyes.
And while I am not really the alarmist type, after a week where I have been trying to process what I have seen, I can’t help but ask myself the following troubling question:
Is it time?
Is it in fact time for American Jews to start planning their exit strategy?
The Rabbis explain that at one point, towards the very end of his life, our forefather Jacob lost his ruach hakodesh–his Divine intuition in which he could foresee the future. The reason is discussed by 17th Century scholar, Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim Lunschitz of Prague, in his classic commentary on the Torah called the Kli Yakar. He explains that by Jacob losing his ruach HaKodesh, he would no longer by able to reveal the end of days to his children. This is because if they found out when the Messianic era would be, if indeed it would be far out in the future, the people would despair, and no longer actively long for the final Redemption. They wouldn’t call out to G-d, begging for that day to come. And then Rabbi Lunschitz said that even today (in the 1600s), when we have no idea when that glorious moment will come, we still don’t long for the Redemption, because we all live in big houses, which we view as our permanent homes, and are, frankly, quite comfortable in them.
Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk, also known as the Meshech Chochma explains in his commentary on the Torah a few hundred years later that the reason Jacob did not want to be buried in Egypt was because if he were, his descendants would view Egypt as their true homes, and would not long to go back to Israel. By doing this, Jacob instilled deep within the hearts of his future descendants an awareness that their time in the Diaspora was meant to be as a ger, a sojourner, a stranger– and NOT a real resident.
I recall vividly hearing a story a few years ago about a great American Rabbi who headed up a Yeshiva. On the occasion of the dedication of his new yeshiva in Monsey, his students observed that he looked a bit glum. They asked him, “Rebbe, why are you so sad? You have worked countless hours for this momentous occasion!” To this he responded with a parable which helped describe his feelings: In the Bronx Zoo is located an attraction where a Polar Bear lives. And in this area, they set up the environment such that it can support a Polar Bear. They make it feel very cold, give it frozen fish for food, and make it think that it is actually in a freezing climate. But when one takes a step back, takes in the scenery, the sites, sounds and smells, one realizes that he is not actually still in the Bronx. One realizes, that no matter how hard the good folks at the zoo try to make it feel like an Arctic climate, the polar bear was still very living in the heart of the Bronx. So too, the great rabbi taught, we Jews in the Diaspora have infrastructures that make us feel comfortable, that make us feel like we are home. New Yeshiva buildings, restaurants, and synagogues. But at the end of the day, this is not how it is meant to be. We Jews in the Diaspora are like Polar Bears in the Bronx zoo.
To me, last Wednesday we were forced to take a step back. We were all vividly reminded, that this is not how it is supposed to be. We are not in our natural habitat. Try as we might, this will never be our true, eternal home. We hope and pray that our journey here is a peaceful and serene one, and we rejoice at the freedoms we have been blessed with during our 200+ year stay.
But this is not it.
This is not what we have been longing for during our 2000+ year brutal exile.
So what I have taken away from this painful episode?
That I must strengthen my yearnful prayer:
May G-d constantly protect us from the many people in the world who despise us.
And may the exalted day come when we return to our Eternal Home in peace and tranquility, blessed with the ability to be the light unto the Nations that we are destined to be.