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Posted on April 28, 2022 (5782) By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

Do not act according to the practice of the land of Egypt, in which you dwelled. Do not act according to the practice of the land of Canaan to which I bring you.[2]

Why does the Torah emphasize “in which you dwelled,” and “to which I bring you?” This seems entirely gratuitous. The Bnei Yisrael completely understood where they came from, and where they were heading.

Rashi’s solution is an eye-opener. He says that the Torah teaches thereby that the practices of the Egyptians and the Canaanites were the most abominable of all peoples at the time. The neighborhoods in which the Jews lived were the worst of the worst. Similarly, the nations within Canaan that were vanquished by the entering Jews were the bottom of the geopolitical barrel.

One way of understanding this is that Hashem wanted to provide them with some sort of national merit. He did this by placing them in the most difficult spiritual surroundings. When they resisted the pressure to go with the flow, and did not adopt the worst practices of their neighbors, they more easily were found worthy of redemption.

Yet, there is a different way of relating to this, which perhaps fits more closely to Rashi’s words. The Torah here teaches – and it is difficult to say this so bluntly – that our presence itself causes our non-Jewish neighbors to become worse than they would otherwise be!

This is not to say, chas v’shalom, that we turn them into resha’im. Nothing like it. It does underscore a fundamental truth about the relationship between ourselves and other nations.

To be sure, we see a world in which some nations hate each other, sometimes for centuries at a time. The strife is invariably caused by competing interests. When some sort of modus vivendi is reached that accommodates the concerns of the different peoples, peace breaks out. The old hatreds are gradually forgotten – at least till the next time competing interests grate on each other.

This is not the case regarding our position amongst the nations. The source of the hatred is simple, and permanent. It is the resistance of tum’ah to kedushah.

Now, we are used to everyone hating us. But how do we understand recent developments[3] like the spread of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion? How can people possibly accept as factual the most absurd and ridiculous claims? Jews insinuating themselves into the governments of all countries, who make decisions about all matters, great and small – chiefly in order to destroy the entire world, and to exterminate all non-Jews? Can anyone in their right mind really believe in such nonsense?

Beneath the surface of such foolishness is the core reason for the hatred of so much of the world for the Jewish people. It is the fear that tum’ah feels when coming into contact with kedushah.

Chazal[4] connect the similar worlds “Sinai” and sin’ah/hatred: when the Torah was given, the hatred of the nations for Jews descended upon the world. The natures of tum’ah and kedushah are completely different and contradictory as one rises, the other must fall. Where one is pronounced, the other pushes back even harder.

Thus, the mere presence of a Jewish people in Egypt – a people who even when they came close to a nadir in their spiritual level still retained a strong element of kedushah – caused a reaction among the Egyptians. It took the form of even more debased and abominable behavior.

It is difficult pill to swallow, but our conclusion is that the more that Jews succeed in exhibiting kedushah, the worse some of their neighbors will become!

  1. Based on Daas Torah by Rav Yeruchem Levovitz zt”l, Vayikra pgs. 137-139
  2. Vayikra 18:3
  3. Rav Yeruchem lived between the years 1873-1936. Almost certainly, the essay from which this piece is adopted belongs to the period of his shmuesen as Mashgiach of the Mir. He succeeded Rav Shlomo Zalman Dolinsky in that role upon the latter’s death in 1911
  4. Shabbos 89a