The question has been asked countless times since the Holocaust was over. What turns an anti-Semite into a mass murderer, a pogrom into genocide?
There have always been anti-Semites and there will always be until the Messianic Era, and the end of the yetzer hara. But many have had their limits as to how far they were willing to go, to express their hatred of Jews. Some anti-Semites could handle a pogrom or two, but drew the line at genocide.
For example, an airline stewardess’s poor treatment of a Chassid on a flight may have had anti-Semitic overtones, but I wonder if she is capable of enjoying the mass murder of Jews, let alone participate in it in any way. On the other hand, an American educator, also recently in the news, seems like the type who could sanction Jewish genocide. Not today necessarily, but tomorrow if such a situation, God forbid, God forbid, were to arise again.
Why do I think that? Because her personal blog is so full of intense hatred of Jews that it is surprising that more of it doesn’t spill over into her campus lectures, and onto her Jewish students, who have since filed complaints against her. The school, of course, is slow to respond and weak in their reaction against her. There’s a message there. The same thing happened on university campuses in Germany in the 1930s.
More importantly, this “educator” doesn’t just spew anti-Israel statements, she does it in the foulest of language. The Zohar says that you can tell what a person is like by how they speak, and her language is as base as it gets. Evidently, this teacher of the next generation is extremely spiritually unrefined, and she’s probably proud of it. That is the basis of what makes a person capable of mass murder, either directly or indirectly. Not necessarily today, but tomorrow.
(If you don’t believe me, just read the transcripts of the Nuremberg trial and see how matter-of-factly Germans murdered Jews. They blamed us for destabilizing their economy when we usually strengthened it. They put the extermination of innocent Jews on par with the extermination of rats. They compared it to American racism against blacks.)
And not necessarily because this teacher already has everything right now that it takes to become a monster to Jews. Just like blessings only need a “base” to attach themselves to in order for a person to receive them, curses also only need a “base” for evil to attach itself to, for some people to turn into monsters when history requires it. There are plenty of people today already with such a rotten base, just as there were in the 1930s in Europe.
And speaking of the 1930s, a Canadian television program aired a week ago that discussed rising anti-Semitism. One of the speakers, an author on the topic, mentioned that current anti-Semitism reminded her of Germany in the 1930s. Her response? To push for more programs to deal with the problem while it is still “manageable.” We now know that the proper response back in the 1930s was to get out of Europe while it was still safe to do so. In other words, she is committed to making the same mistake twice.
And what mistake is that?
Confusing the messenger for the Perpetrator.
WE TEND TO treat anti-Semitism as a man-made thing…as simple bigotry. It is only human to be wary of people who are different from us, childish to treat them in a lesser way because of their differences, and animalistic to hurt them as a result. But what do you call it when all of that is true even when such differences don’t exist?
The Gemora asks why Har Sinai is called Sinai (Shabbos 89a). After trying a few variations of the word, the Gemora finally settles on the word sinah—hatred:
‘Why is it called Har Sinai? Because, it was the mountain from which sinah—hatred—descended to the gentile nations. (Shabbos 89a)
Rashi says that it is because they did not receive Torah, which contradicts the Midrash which says that they refused it when offered it by God. Furthermore, according to the Sifri, anti-Semitism pre-dated the giving of the Torah by hundreds of years:
It is halachah that Eisav hates Ya’akov. (Sifri, BeHa’alosecha 69)
So what does the Gemora mean, and why is it a halachah that Eisav hates Ya’akov? Because he tricked Eisav into selling the right of the firstborn, and then later stole his blessing? The only reason Eisav was upset was because he had thought the blessings would make him rich and powerful, which he later became anyhow. And as Rashi explains later, the angel of Eisav agreed that the blessings belonged to Ya’akov, and that should have filtered down to Eisav too.
Besides, Eisav certainly did not miss being a kohen, locked away in the Temple and serving God day in and day out. That wasn’t his style, and he was probably grateful to Ya’akov for taking that part from him. Rather, the basis of Eisav’s innate hated of Ya’akov is mentioned in Yitzchak’s “blessing” to Eisav:
You shall live by your sword, and you shall serve your brother, and it will be, when you grieve, that you will break his yoke off your neck. (Bereishis 27:39-40)
And it will be, when you grieve: When the Jewish people will transgress the Torah, and you will have cause to grieve about the blessings that he took, “you will break his yoke,” etc. (Rashi)
According to Rashi, Yitzchak mentioned two things that have the ability to awaken anti-Semitism and, seemingly, the first arouses the second. The first is Jewish backsliding from Torah which, for some reason, has the ability to awaken Eisav’s grief about his loss of the blessings…that supposedly he stopped grieving about a long time ago!
Besides, how many “descendants” of Eisav today even look at themselves that way, and have any connection to their history from thousands of years ago? All anti-Semites today know is what they “feel” today…hatred for Jews, and the need to do “something” about it. Hence, Hitler’s, ysv”z, “Final Solution to the Jewish Problem.”
So what did Yitzchak mean? Was it only a temporary thing, meant only to apply to Eisav and his immediate descendants who might have inherited the narrative from their father? Or, was Yitzchak talking about all of history until Moshiach comes, and if yes, how does that work?
The answer to that question is in Parashas Vayishlach. That is where we were first introduced to the Sar shel Eisav. Ya’akov had come to confront his physical brother but had to pass through Eisav’s ministering angel to get to him. The angel seemed to know everything about what was and will ever be. The night-long battle was even considered to represent the long and dark exiles Ya’akov’s descendants were destined to suffer through, at the hands of Eisav’s descendants.
Morning, symbolic of the final redemption, came and Ya’akov survived the fight. But the night was a big struggle, as it has been for generations of Jews since then. It is that angel that is key to this discussion and understanding the Heavenly nature of man’s oldest hatred.
THE MIDRASH SAYS that a blade of grass doesn’t grow unless an angel tells it to grow. The Leshem explains what this means. Before Adam HaRishon sinned, God personally took care of man’s needs, as we see in the Torah. His sin caused the world to spiritually descend, “forcing” God to inject angels into the flow of Divine light as intermediaries.
It’s all God, but with layers of angels protecting the holiness of the light, and giving many the mistaken impression that God is not involved. So every angel telling every blade of grass to grow is just the will of God coming through some spiritual intermediary.
It works the same way for every individual, and even entire nations. There are angels appointed over each of us, receiving Divine light and then distributing it to every person or nation as per the will of God and His plan for history. So the descendants of Eisav may have come and gone countless times since Yitzchak foretold of future anti-Semitism, but the angel responsible for their well-being is the same one Ya’akov fought with back in Vayishlach.
And he has a good memory. He remembers all of history if only because God makes sure of it, so that Yitzchak’s prophecy can come true. You see, as long as the Jewish people act worthy of the right of the firstborn, the Sar shel Eisav has no opening to undermine their ownership of it. But if “Ya’akov” ceases to act like Ya’akov and begins to live like “Eisav,” then the Sar shel Eisav complains: “He is not better than I was, so why should he get to keep the blessing?”
And with that blessing comes Divine protection from those who hate us. We have seen how quickly and completely that supernatural protection can disappear, if the angel’s complaint is validated. And the rest is not only commentary, but has been our long and often torturous history.
Ain Od Milvado, Part 38
I AM THE Lord your God…It does get any more ain od Milvado than that. The first of the Ten Commandments is not only telling us that God “owns” us. It is also telling us that God “works” for us, which seems to be just the opposite of the first statement.
This resolves the contradiction. As mentioned above, Adam’s sin caused God to take steps back from mankind, by introducing intermediaries to deliver His light to us. The overall impact of this has been obvious: mankind thinking that God doesn’t exist, or at least run the world. By the time mankind receives God’s bounty, it seems like nature delivering the goods, not God.
Torah is supposed to change that for a Jew, somewhat. God is telling us with this first mitzvah that He is our God, meaning that He is prepared to come closer and be more “visible” to the Jew who keeps His Torah. Living a Torah life rectifies some of the damage Adam HaRishon did with his sin, reducing the need for angel intermediaries, and making the involvement of God in life more tangible.
This means that ain od Milvado is not just a mitzvah to be real with the fact that God runs the entire show. It is also a gift for having accepted Torah. It is Torah that makes it possible to perceive ain od Milvado, greatly enhancing our quality of life in this world, and eternal reward in the World to Come.
Furthermore, it is with ain od Milvado that we actually fight back anti-Semitism. As the Chovos Levovos says, trusting in anything other than God means being left at the mercy of those false trusts. How many times have they helped us in the beginning and turned on us in the end?
In this sense, hatred really did begin with Sinai. That is where we received the opportunity to perceive the reality of ain od Milvado to fight against anti-Semitism, when we use that opportunity to be real with it.