WE ARE STILL HERE
Rabbi Reuven Mann
On Tisha B'Av, which we have just observed, we recounted all the historical sufferings of the Jewish people.
To those of us who were born and raised in America, all of this is foreign to our experience. In the long history of the Exile, no Jewish community has had it as good as we have. America is a noble country that absolutely respects and preserves the right of all its citizens, regardless of race or religion, to live in peace and security. We should never forget or cease being grateful for this.
However, the Kinnot (lamentations) we recited should be a reminder that anti-Semitism is not a superficial or ephemeral phenomenon. It is deeply ingrained in the human psyche. The Rabbis say that the hatred of Esav for Yaakov is a “halacha,” that is, a part of the natural order.
Virtually all of the civilizations with whom we have interacted became an enemy, at some point. One need look no further than the Jews of Germany. At one time, they were fully integrated and assimilated into the culture and society. We know where that story ended. This invariably leads to the question: Can it happen here? It doesn’t seem or feel like it can, but our historical experience rules out the feasibility of confidently maintaining that it cannot.
In considering our history, one gets the impression that we have always been a small and weak people in comparison with the mighty nations that oppressed us. However, we should ask, Where are they now? All the great empires that arose to destroy us have been relegated to the dustbins of history, never to be heard from again.
And we, the despised people, who were dispersed to the ends of the earth and relegated to a state of abject defenselessness, are still here. Not only that, but we are a vibrant nation with achievements in science, medicine, and technology way out of proportion to our numbers. This in addition to voluminous works on ethics, morality and Torah interpretation which have impacted and illuminated the path of all mankind.
Our enemies have misinterpreted the real significance of Jewish suffering. Rabbi Soloveitchik (the Rav) teaches that a major theme of the Kinnot is Christianity’s theological gloating about the plight of the Jewish people. They have always said that we suffer because we have been displaced (by them) as G-d’s chosen people.
This idea is expressed in a number of places, particularly in Kinna 20. There we read, “Incline your ear, my G-d, to the disparagement and ridicule, ‘Where is your hope? Your Temple will never be rebuilt!’ Incline your ear, my G-d, to those who claim that the Temple is abandoned, forgotten and cast aside, forever will it be desolate.”
According to the great Rav, this refers to the Christian claim that G-d broke His Covenant with the Jews and permanently exiled them from the land of Israel. Therefore, they say, the Jews will never be able to return and rebuild Israel and the Temple.
Much of Christianity posits the doctrine of “supersession,” which asserts that Hashem broke His ties with the Jews and made a "new" covenant with the Christians. This idea was central to the historical dispute between the two religions.
We have always maintained that we are, eternally, Hashem’s Chosen People. We have always asserted that our exile is temporary and that we would, ultimately, be restored to our Holy Land.
Most theological debates are of the kind that cannot be resolved by empirical evidence. This one proved to be the exception. The dream of the Return has become a reality. The Jews have rebuilt the land of Israel into a vibrant and thriving society.
The Church took its time and was very reluctant to recognize the State of Israel. Israel’s existence constitutes a theological challenge for which it has no answers. Israel is a thorn in the side and an absolute refutation of the claims of those who taunted, “Where is your hope? Your Temple will never be rebuilt!”
Therefore, as we emerge from the day in which we recounted the manifold tragedies of Jewish history, we should not lose sight of this amazing fact: the people who suffered these fatal blows, which would have brought down any other nation, are still here, alive and well.
Why is that? The answer is in this week’s parsha, Va’etchanan. In it, Moshe refers to the Jews as a “great” nation. He says, “For who is a great nation to whom Hashem is close, in all of our calling out to Him? And who is a great nation that has laws and statutes that are righteous and just, as this entire Torah that I place before you this day?”
We are an eternal People because Hashem has associated His Name with us. Only to us did He entrust His Torah of truth so we would implement and preserve it. And only the nation that fulfills the Divine revelation, according to the written and oral law, can lay claim to being His Chosen People. It is exclusively because of Hashem’s closeness to us that we have survived and outlived all our oppressors, who sensed our strange uniqueness and sought to destroy it.
In this season of Nachamu (consolation), we should be grateful for the Divine Providence that has enabled us to initiate the process of redemption by granting us a foothold in the Land of Israel. May we be inspired to grow in the ways of Divine wisdom and, thereby, merit to witness the time when the nations, upon recognizing our enlightened and inspired way of life, will proclaim, “What a wise and discerning nation is this great people.”
In this time of social isolation, we should seek ways to avoid boredom by staying occupied with meaningful activity. The world of virtual reality allows us to stay in touch with friends and attend all kinds of classes available online.
But that can only take you so far. Comes Shabbat and Yom Tov, and you need books, especially on the parsha. I personally recommend Eternally Yours on Genesis http://bit.ly/EY-Genesis and Exodus http://bit.ly/EY-Exodus, and my newest one on Numbers http://bit.ly/EY-Numbers2. They are easy to read, interesting, and thought-provoking conversation starters. I am especially interested in your feedback and hope you can write a brief review and post it on Amazon.