This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (cf. Jeremiah 29:4-7)
They say the more things change, the more they stay the same. Perhaps. Perhaps not. The Jews have been sent into exile and the exile will come to an end in one of two ways: (1) when we begin to properly discharge our duties as Jews or (2) when the ancient hatred and animosity of the nations is leveled against the Jew once again. In either case, there will be no one to blame except ourselves and, sadly, considering the history of our people, I fear it will only be the latter which will serve to wake us from our slumber.
For centuries, men have discussed Jew-hatred and more recently, anti-Semitism, postulating as to its causes. More often than not, the discussion inevitably turns to blaming the nations for their baseless hatred borne of ignorance, madness, and paranoia. To a certain degree this is arguably true. The spirit of Amalek is as vibrant as ever and there will always be a Haman or two who wants to rid the world of us once and for all based on nothing more than the premise that “there is a certain people dispersed among the peoples . . . who keep themselves separate. Their customs are different from those of all other people . . . it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them.” (cf. Esther 3) Their problem is not so much with Jews as it is with the God of the Jews.
And yet, what we have so often failed to ask ourselves as Jews is when do we need to fear Amalek the most? Is it not when our hands are slack and no longer raised towards the heavens? Were those not the moments when the battle favored Amalek against Joshua? Should we really expect that it would be any different today? Do not our sages remind us that when Amalek comes, the Jewish people must somewhere or other have neglected their duties?
In the Midrash Tanchuma and Talmud Arakhin 5b we read: “The enemy comes (against the Jews) only for laxity of hands in upholding the Law.” All too often the Jewish people have called into question the divinity of its mission and expressed doubts about whether God was among them or not, and due to this doubt and mistrust, neglected their duties as Jews i.e. performing the Word of God.
A prominent 19th century rabbi residing in Germany commented that:
So long as the Jewish people fully comprehends and carries out its duties, so long as it remains a “kingdom of priests” to its God and a “holy people” in its intercourse with mankind, then it matters not that, so long as there is night upon the earth, it should be “scattered” and also appear to be “different” in the eyes of the peoples; it matters not that its priestly and holy wandering should “set it apart” from the customs and ways of the peoples and that – so long as there is night upon the earth – this very separation should provide enemies like Haman a welcome excuse for persecuting the Jews for their own ends. Above the madness of the nations, the intrigues and plots of ministers, and the weakness of princes stands God, Who can sway not only the waves of the ocean but also the hearts of the princes for the deliverance of His faithful ones.
So long as there are Jews in the world, Haman and Amalek will always find a way to justify their enmity and hatred. That is simply the way it is in this present world. My primary concern, however, lies elsewhere. My concern is with the willing defection from God and Torah-observance of my brethren, a defection which infuses the persecution of the Jews by the nations with plausibility.
Consequently, the sense of security and comfort of which many Jews in this country boast couldn’t be more illusory, hollow, and false. And the Jews who boast the loudest are often the ones who have shirked their duty as Jews with the greatest fervor, while imagining that they could buy the friendship of the nations and permanently secure that friendship by discarding everything that distinguishes them as Jews. In other words, they thought they could sell their birthright for a pot of stew and no one would notice, least of all God.
So, what has happened here in America? In no other place and in no other time have Jews failed to demonstrate to the nations how to live a life of Divine service more than here in America; here in America, where Jews have enjoyed the unprecedented benefits of citizenship, we have failed to show ourselves as loyal servants of God. Instead, we have fought to secure and maintain those benefits, in large part, by slackening our hands and diminishing our commitment to God and Torah observance.
For the most part, we have not related to American society in a very positive way. We have done very little to inspire our fellow-citizens to live righteously. Instead, we have advanced causes which are not only contrary to God and His ways, but we have also championed policies and lobbied on behalf of political agendas which have worked against the peace and prosperity of this nation whose welfare was supposed be our chief concern during our temporary sojourn here. Surely, there must be a reason that the phrase “What’s good for the goyim?” never embedded itself in the collective conscience of the non-Jewish world to which we have been exiled. The opportunities we have forfeited are legion.
What we have forgotten is that we are not only citizens of a territorial state, but we are also members of the Jewish people, a people who are rooted in the Torah and who belong to Him, no matter where we have been scattered. I do not believe that God’s objective was for us was to disappear among the nations. Our main objective, rather, was to simply express and demonstrate loyalty to our host nations as the most natural outflow of a religious imperative and obligation, an imperative and obligation which was clearly expressed by the prophet Jeremiah. And neither are those obligations mere payment for the hospitality of our gracious benefactors. We owe loyalty even to the most oppressive regime.
God prescribed for us a duty to be loyal to every state and every country which provided for us a home, along with our wives and children, even when this hospitality grew cold and the nations became indifferent and hostile. We were never exhorted to seek special representation or advocate for special treatment. Rather, we were to live as inconspicuously as possible while praying to the Lord for the prosperity of the nations with the understanding that the welfare of the nations was bound up with our own.
Not only that, but our chief duty among the nations to which we had been scattered was to demonstrate to the world the highest ethical and moral standards the world had ever known. One of our Sages, the Chasam Sofer, expressed concern that assimilation and compromising Torah principles might even serve to prolong the exile. He compared the betterment of the Jews’ position in exile to a king who built a palace for his exiled son. Instead of rejoicing, the son lamented that his improved and luxurious living conditions only indicated that the king did not intend to bring him home any time soon.
So, what did we do? We turned our back to our Creator, abandoned the Torah, and exchanged the “burden” of obedience for the “acceptance” of our host nations in hopes of satisfying, gratifying, and enriching ourselves. Rather than remain true and loyal to the countries who allowed us dwell in their midst, we allowed our desire to be rid of the burden of serving Him to blind us to the opportunities to sanctify God’s name by simply promoting the welfare of our host nations, most especially in the nations where we experienced the greatest oppression, real or imagined.
Rather than serving and seeking the prosperity of the nations to which we had been scattered, we served ourselves and sought our own prosperity instead. And then, in the wake of the resentment of the nations to which our dereliction of duty had contributed, we scratched our collective heads in agitated wonderment and were quite surprised to learn that we were once again unwelcome objects of persecution, persecution which we ourselves had co-authored, not because we were too Jewish, but because we had shirked our duties as Jews and were not Jewish enough.
Somewhat ironically, perhaps, non-observance has proven to be the cause of anti-Semitism rather than the cure so many Jews thought it would be. The persecution of the Jews will not spare those who are determined to reject God, desecrate His Sabbath, eat pork, and continue living non-Jewish lives. The hatred of the Jewish way of life is merely a disguise for hatred of the Jew. Who would have imagined that there would be so many anti-Semites among our own? The only result that we will reap from our rejection and defiance of God and His Torah will be more suffering and a deepening of the exile for our recalcitrance and rejection of Him as predicted by that same Torah for which so many Jews express their disdain and contempt.
I am not hopeful that the Jews in America are going to suddenly awaken and return en masse to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We have, like Yeshurun, grown too fat. But I am confident that Hashem is going to once again use the nations to remind the Jew who he is, who God called him to be, and the life of service He called him to live.
Less than a century before the Holocaust, R’ S.R. Hirsch presciently observed:
Has the Emancipation, with its newly found freedom and opportunity, resulted in more joy, greater satisfaction and a still happier existence than what our forebears experienced? Do you believe that you no longer need to remember the past? Do you really think that somber times will never recur? O, you deluded ones! Look at the society which is now freely open to you. Look around in the marketplace of life. Has the race of Haman died out completely with his ten sons? Could you not find someone from the Rhine to the Oder, from the Volga to the Danube who is capable of being his successor? Be sober and observe. Indeed, the horizon of the Jew may well become somber; sultry clouds hang in the German sky. Even in our own Jewish circles indications for gloom are apparent. No one is secure.