THE TALMUD RELATES how Eliezer, Avraham’s servant, went to Sdom and what it was like for him (Sanhedrin 109b). Crazy is an understatement. They had absurd laws that were truly backwards. When you read about them you think to yourself, “Really? Was this the way it was, or is it just exaggeration?”
What’s the problem? The problem is that the people of Sdom kept a straight face. Eliezer probably couldn’t, but the people of Sdom thought their laws were clever. They made sense to them, which is what doesn’t make sense to us. It’s one thing if people know what is right but they have chosen to abuse the system. It’s something altogether different when the abuse is the system, and people happily enforce it.
One thing is for sure. I never imagined I would ever see that kind of thinking in my lifetime. The line between sanity and insanity has been clearly defined for society, though there are some gray areas. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was a movie that had a lot of truth to it, but it was still only a movie.
I’m not so sure anymore. I asked myself for many years, how could a place like Sdom ever really exist? How could such thinking become predominant in society? True, America has been compared to Sdom, but until recently, that usually referred only to its level of material decadence. Now it even applies to the American and Israeli governments, and the thinking of the people in charge.
Truth is out. I know, I know, it was already written in the Talmud that this would be the case (Sanhedrin 97a). But it is one thing to imagine a society in which people lie about the truth, but another thing to witness falsehood become more important than the truth. Cheating is so acceptable, even noble to the people on your side.
When they pushed God out of the picture, they claimed it was in the name of the freedom of something. But clearly it was to create a void that falsehood could fill quite comfortably. When was the last time, in the West at least, that speaking the truth could make you a traitor to the state and liable to punishment?
Honestly, I’m not surprised. Anyone who saw the changes in this direction decades ago should have seen this coming. It’s just so hard to put up with, and it is so frustrating that it has become strong and is getting stronger. This is so very scary because it always leads to collapse at some point, and that’s when being Jewish can become very dangerous.
HOW DOES THIS happen, and why? How do such warped mentalities become reality for so many people?
Brains are interesting things. We need them to be smart, but they don’t automatically make us smart. Like computers they are a system, and if you feed them false data they will come to false conclusions. The integrity of a computer comes down to the integrity of the data it was originally fed, against which it will compare future data to determine its integrity and usefulness. What you get back depends upon what you put in.
Most people who make aliyah from the west find this out quickly. They don’t just encounter people with different ideas when trying to adjust to the Israeli system, they encounter a whole different mentality than the one they are used to.
Corruption occurs on both sides of the ocean. But in the west, it is called corruption and people can go to jail for it. In the Middle-East, it is the way people have been working for hundreds if not thousands of years now. They know what they are doing but see nothing wrong with it. If you don’t want to be stung by it, you have to work with it.
That’s what Ya’akov did when he moved in with Lavan. When Rachel warned him about her father’s trickiness, Ya’akov called himself his brother in trickery. Really? Ya’akov Avinu? The one whose life was guided by truth and spiritual purity? Ya’akov understood that he was going to be living with people of an entirely different mentality. He knew that survival meant learning to work with it, not ignore it.
Eisav was another mentality Ya’akov had to deal with. Yes, he was his brother. Yes, he grew up in the same house. Yes, he had the same education, initially. But we already saw at the beginning of last week’s parsha how Eisav looked at the world so very differently from his family, and related to it on a whole different level.
That’s one of the major problems with so many people supporting the Arabs against the Jews without really knowing the Arabs. They look at what they say and demand through western eyes and think they are being reasonable. The assume that it is the Jews who are being selfish and obstinate. If they truly understood the Arab mentality, they would see things very differently, as so many have who have done exactly that.
It’s also one of the reasons for the Cold War that existed for decades after World War II. It wasn’t just two superpowers with common values and wants at each other’s throat. It was two very different mentalities going head-to-head. Today China is the “other side,” and their mentality is vastly different than America’s. This is why the American government, once again, is fumbling the situation.
You can tell when it is a battle of mentalities, and not just one of wits. When two parties are alike but just want the same thing then compromise is possible. There is a common language, and it is just a question of speaking it.
But when two mentalities are at war, there is no common language. Contrary to a lot of misguided Arab supporters out there, and now in our own government, the lack of peace is not due to Israeli obstinance. What Israel has already given and has been prepared to give would have made peace with anyone else with a similar mentality.
We know from living with the Arabs that it is not a lack of generosity that has interfered with peace in the Middle-East. It is a lack of common mentality. Torah ideology does not preclude peace with the Arabs. Secular Israeli philosophy does not preclude amicable peace with the Arabs. But Arab philosophy says that the Jews must either convert or accept second class citizenship…or worse.
As Lavan will tell Ya’akov at the end of this week’s parsha, if God had not held him back, he would have destroyed Ya’akov completely. How many fathers-in-laws talk to their sons-in-law like that? Those with a Lavan-like mentality do.
Likewise, if God were to stop protecting us against our neighbors, God forbid, those neighbors would easily and quickly run us off the land. Thank God He hasn’t abandoned us so far, and in the meantime, Arab mentality has looked for ways to fool the West into joining them against the Jews. Unfortunately, European mentality and similar mentality in other western countries have welcomed the opportunity to adopt the Arab way of describing the situation.
WHEN YA’AKOV LAST saw his brother Eisav, Eisav wanted to kill him. Ya’akov ran to the Bais Midrash of Shem and Eiver for 14 years of learning, and then spent the next 20 years with Lavan building his family and wealth. He went out of his way to confront Eisav once again on his way back to Eretz Yisroel, the Midrash says.
When they finally travelled all that distance towards each other and went head-to-head, it was ideologically, not physically. It was a short meeting, unlike Ya’akov’s final confrontation with Lavan, during which they sat down together to eat. Ya’akov and Eisav met, exchanged greetings, and then went their separate ways—forever.
But not before saying two short statements that have been the proverbial fork in the road between the Jewish people and the rest of the world ever since. When Ya’akov tried to convince Eisav to accept his gift, Eisav turned it down at first. He said that he already had so much and did not need the gift. Ya’akov insisted that he take the gift because he, Ya’akov, had all that he needed.
Rashi explains that Eisav wasn’t being modest. He was bragging about how wealthy he had become and why Ya’akov’s gift didn’t matter to him. Ya’akov, also a wealthy man, didn’t talk about his success. He may have had a lot, but he didn’t need a lot to be content. He lived from day to day and was happy with his portion, assuming that God would always give him what he needed.
The difference between the two perspectives was God. Eisav did not have God in his corner because he did not want God in his corner. Therefore, he was forced to depend upon himself and his possessions to support his way of life. The more he had, the more secure he felt.
Ya’akov had the opposite mentality. Though he was financially independent he didn’t live as if he was. If anything, he saw himself as the guardian of wealth that really belonged to God that he was allowed to use according to the will of God. It didn’t make a difference if he worked for it or got it for free. It was all God’s, and it was all a function of Hashgochah Pratis—Divine Providence.
That changes everything. Everything good about man emanates from his belief in God, and how deeply he feels that belief. The basis of all good human traits is humility, because humility is the basis of objectivity and truth. Humility keeps the yetzer hara in check so that the soul, which naturally acts godly, can influence a person’s actions. Ya’akov had a God mentality. Eisav did not, and it showed in everything Eisav did.
It works both ways. Some can profess to believe in God and act ungodly. That’s proof their belief has yet to make it to their heart, or they believe in the wrong god. And the Chillul Hashem they create can be so devastating that, in the words of Yechezkel HaNavi, God has to bring the redemption just to end it. It’s not to their credit.
Unfortunately, when people let God slip out of secular soci- ety, as inevitable as it always seems, they untethered the minds and hearts of the generations that have followed them. The things they are saying and doing do not resonate to us because WE would never say or do the same things, believing in God. We are disgusted, vilified, and horrified by the things going on around us while the rest of society is ecstatic about it.
What’s the solution? How do you put all of that back into Pandora’s box? You can’t. God does. And He has in the past, and it hasn’t been pretty to say the least, not before He does and certainly not as He does. But for those who want to survive it, you have to rise above it, like Noach did in his time, and others have done in theirs. How do you do that? That I put into a book called “Living higher.”
Books: Living Higher
THE BLACK PLAGUE, also known as the Pestilence, the Great Mortality, or the Plague, was the deadliest pandemic recorded in human history. It resulted in the deaths of 75-200 million people in Eurasia and North Africa, peaking in Europe during the four years from 1347 to 1351.
Jews were often used as scapegoats, and accusations spread that they had caused the disease by deliberately poisoning wells. This seemed likely because they were clearly less affected than other people. Adding to the suspicion was the awareness that many Jews chose not to use the common wells of towns and cities. To prove their guilt authorities coerced them through torture to confess to poisoning wells.
By washing their hands frequently, the Jews may have also reduced their risk of catching and spreading disease.
The point is that the Jewish population for some mysterious reason was noticeably less affected by the deadly plague than the gentile population. The question is whether the reason was natural or supernatural.
In 1898 the famous American humorist, satirist, writer, and lecturer Mark Twain wrote an article for Har-per’s Magazine entitled “Concerning the Jews”:
If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one quarter of one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous puff of stardust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly, the Jew ought hardly to be heard of, but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk. His contributions to the world’s list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine, and abstruse learning are also very out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers. He has made a mar-velous fight in this world in all ages; and has done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself and be excused for it.
The Egyptians, the Babylonians and the Persians rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greeks and Romans followed and made a vast noise, and they were gone; other people have sprung up and held their torch high for a time but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, and have vanished. The Jew saw them all, survived them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert but aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jews; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?
It is quite an observation and quite an openness by a famous non-Jew to talk so inspiringly about a people that has been reviled, resented, and rejected for a good part of its history. Did Mark Twain really mean it? Is it really true?
Since the beginning.
Kabbalah explains that when it came to the Avos, just about everything about them was supernatural from the very beginning. Enough about them looked natural in order to throw off the public. But people who paid close attention or were given reason to notice, like Avimelech for example, saw something other-worldly about the Jews.
Now it came to pass at that time, that Avimelech and Phicol his general said to Avraham, “God is with you in all that you do.” (Bereishis 21:22)
And Yitzchak said to them, “Why have you come to me, since you hate me and you sent me away from you?” And they said, “We have seen that God was with you…” (Bereishis 26:27-28)
There are many examples regarding the Avos and their children. As Mark Twain observed, the phenomenon was true not only for the Avos but for their descendants as well, and not just for good but also for bad. Living supernaturally is a double-edged sword, and to adapt a well-known expression, “The higher they go, the farther they fall.” (Paperback and Kindle available through Amazon. PDF version available through Thirtysix.org. The Big Picture Webinar begins this Tuesday, b”H. Write to [email protected] for details.)