This week we begin a new "book" from the Torah. Vayikra ("He called") or you might know it as Leviticus. The opening line is "Vayikra el Moshe" or "He called to Moses..." What was it that G-d called on Moses to do? To "Speak to the Children of Israel..." And Moses did as G-d directed. The real question is...were the people listening?
There is another interesting item from the first words in this Torah portion. If you look at the original Hebrew you will see that in the word "vayikra" the final letter is a small Alph or the Hebrew letter for "a". Why is it so? The rabbis tell us there are multiple reasons for this. G-d wanted to show his love for Moses and, at the same time, the smaller "a" denotes the monumental humility Moses wished to describe as he reported his conversation with G-d.
This Torah portion is alive with all kinds of commandments regarding the many offerings that were part of the early religion. In our world today we can lift up G-d with offerings of a different sort. We can offer prayer, we can offer blessings, we can offer time to learn or to teach and we can offer gifts of charity. Different offerings but all, we think, are pleasing to G-d.
Back to Antisemitism and Last Week's Lesson
Last week you might remember we had some thoughts on Antisemitism and the excuses some have for being hateful toward the Jew. This week let's look at some of the reasons behind that hate. For you see, Antisemitism is unique among the hatreds in the world in a combination of four aspects: 1) Longevity -- it's been around a long time 2) Universality -- virtually everywhere in the world 3) Intensity -- it's expressed in a particularly virulent manner 4) Confusion -- there is surprisingly little agreement on why people hate the Jews.
Historians offer many "reasons" to explain why people are anti-semitic: Jews are too powerful or too lazy; too separate or a threat to "racial purity" through assimilation; pacifistic or warmongers; capitalist exploiters or revolutionary communists; the "killers" of Jesus or the progenitors of Jesus; possessors of a Chosen People mentality or an inferiority complex. These reasons have only one thing in common -- they have nothing to do with our being Jewish. One might think that we are just the victims of bad luck -- always possessing the needed quality to be hated wherever we are in the world at exactly that time in history.
Do you know who disagrees with the historians? Anne Frank. Writes Anne Frank on April 11,1944 in her diary: "Who knows -- it might even be our religion from which the world and all peoples learn good, and for that reason and that reason alone do we now suffer. We can never become just Netherlanders, or just English, or representatives of any other country for that matter. We will always remain Jews."
Anne Frank made a point of stressing that Jews have something of special value to give to the world, and that is precisely what the world has resented, and that is why people have persecuted Jews. Anne Frank identifies anti-Semitism as a hatred of Jewishness, a loathing altogether different from the bigotry or racism that other peoples experience.
The Talmud (Tractate Shabbos 69) cites the source of anti-Semitism using a play on words: The Torah - the source of the Jewish system of laws, values and moral standards - was received at Mount Sinai. The Hebrew pronunciation of "Sinai" is almost identical to the Hebrew word for "hatred" - sinah. "Why was the Torah given on a mountain called Sinai?" asks the Talmud. "Because the great sinah - the tremendous hatred aimed at the Jew - emanates from Sinai."
At Sinai Jews were told that there is one God, Who makes moral demands on all of humanity. Consequently, at Sinai the Jewish nation became the target for the hatred of those whose strongest drive is to liberate mankind from the shackles of conscience and morality.
At Sinai the Jewish nation was appointed to be "a light unto the nations." There are those who embrace Jews and the Jewish faith because of that light; but there are also those who want the world to be a place of spiritual darkness. They object to morality. Those would-be harbingers of darkness attack the Jews as the lightning rod for their hatred. This "call to Sinai" - the message entrusted to and borne by the Jews - ultimately transforms the world. Yet, it is this very message that draws forth the wrath of those who would give their last ounce of strength to resist it.
A great many people simply can't cope with the burden of being good. However, when they act in ways that are bad, they can't cope with the resultant feelings of guilt. Try as they may, they can never cut themselves loose from the standards of absolute morality dictated by the Torah. Stuck in this "Catch-22" situation, people turn with their mounting frustrations against the Jews, whom they perceive as personifying humanity's collective conscience.
When the Jews entered the theological arena, they showed people all the mistakes they had been making: Pagan gods are nonsense - there is only one God for all of mankind, Who is invisible, infinite and perfect. Infanticide and human sacrifice are unacceptable. Every human being is born with specific rights. No one can live as he pleases, for everyone must surrender his will to a higher Authority.
Conscious or subconscious, people recognize the Jews' message as truth. Those unwilling to embrace the truth have found that the only way to rid themselves of it is to destroy the messengers - for the message itself is too potent to be dismissed. If Judaism were just another ideology, people could laugh it off and continue on their merry way; however, deep in every human soul is the recognition of the essential truth of absolute morality.
For the last 2,000 years the Jewish people have gone through enormous amounts of persecution, hatred -- ultimately leading to genocide. And through it all, the Jewish people always held onto being Jewish. Why? They understood that it was worth it. They understood what the meaning of being Jewish was, and they were willing to pay the price.
The pain that is part and parcel of being Jewish is obvious; if people cannot see any meaning to that pain, it is unlikely that they will be willing to stand by their Jewish identity. That is why we find such widespread assimilation today - Jews do not see why they should "lose out" on life and set themselves apart from their host societies.
If we can come to understand why Jews are so hated, we can understand who Jews are and, more important, who Jews can be. A powerful effort has been made to remove the Jewish element from Antisemitism, by calling it "anti-Israel." However, in doing so, is to ignore the critical message Antisemitism teaches about the uniqueness and preciousness of the Jew. This alone is a compelling reason for Jews to learn about Antisemitism and what it means to be a Jew.
Shabbat Shalom and thank you for reading!