20 January 2017
Rabbi Pinchas Winston
In your opinion, which was a more difficult exile for the Jewish people, the one in Egypt or the Babylonia exile that ended with the Purim miracle? I would have thought the Egyptian exile was the worst, given all the torture and death to which the Jewish people were subject. Babylonia ALMOST resulted in genocide, but never got that far.
To my surprise, the Zohar says that the Babylonian exile was worse, and the reason is both interesting and instructive. The Jewish people had been used to suffering for a while, between famine and all the years spent in Egyptian exile. When things got worse, the Zohar says, they just adjusted themselves and bore the burden.
It was different with respect to the Babylonian exile. The Jewish people had been on their own land for hundreds of years. They had prospered greatly and even had the Temple for a long period of time. They were used to God being among them. When they went into exile, they lost everything, and the change was extremely dramatic and difficult to bear.
That being the case, what does that say about our exile until now. After the Holocaust, the Jews rebuilt themselves and went beyond past levels of success. Our generations were born into prosperity and have enjoyed relatively universal acceptance compared to all the anti-Semitism from the last 1,000 years at least. Life and history has been good to us until now. We have grown accustomed and even more dangerous, attached to our way life.
Remember the story in the Talmud about the wealthy woman who had to fend for herself as the Roman invasion took its toll on Jewish independence and prosperity (Gittin 56a)? In the end, it wasn’t a Roman spear or catapult that killed her. It was her inability to overcome her pampered living and then suddenly being exposed to something filthy on the road that caused her to die.
What can we say about our current exile? Even the word itself sounds greatly exaggerated. On one hand, we are not a unified nation living in Eretz Yisroel with a Temple as our centerpiece. On the other hand, life as a Jew has been amazing, for secular and religious Jews. The freedom to live and to practice Judaism is unprecedented in exile at least over the last 1,000 years. In a nutshell, the Jewish people have had it great post-Holocaust.
Pampered? Tremendously. Dangerously so? We may yet find out. This is why we are fighting so hard to maintain the status quo. We know what life can be like for the Jew, and we dread it. We’d like to believe that the gentile world has moved on since the Holocaust, but many suspect it hasn’t. Now those fears are starting to appear substantiated.
“It is only fair for the Palestinians to have a state of their own,” the argument goes. “It is only right, and legal, that Israel vacate lands they annexed since 1967,” the proponents of a two-state solution argue. “Israel is the one holding up peace,” Israel’s detractors complain bitterly.
What about Gaza? Even though the Arabs never gave anything, Israel worked unilaterally and vacated the premises at great cost to her people and the economy. In the end, we received a terrorist state against which we have fought wars in the meantime, at great cost to the people of Israel and the economy. THE WORLD SAID NOTHING.
The Palestinian educational system has not changed to make possible peace and to make possible trust. This is because it is based upon an ideology that will not change until Moshiach comes. The same ideology is what has greatly increased the crime rate of Western nations that accepted Arab refugees with open arms and no conditions. THE WORLD SAYS NOTHING.
I could go on for pages about why giving the Palestinians their own state, especially with international support, is a bad thing, not just for Israel, but for the world. No need. It would not make the slightest difference to the situation, because the people responsible for slipping the noose around Israel’s neck and tightening it are not acting logically. Their perspective towards reality and the Jewish people, and certainly towards peace, is distorted, very distorted.
This makes it sound as if I am saying that I know this because I have a good handle on reality. It is true, except that it has nothing to do with my IQ, EQ, or any other facet of me. It has to do with Torah. Torah is the most accurate vision of reality we have because it comes from the Source of reality, God Himself. Without Torah, even a person with the best of intentions cannot really fathom reality in any really accurate manner. You have to be an Avraham Avinu to have the ability to do that.
Of course, if you only learn the Written Law, you only get a part of the story. The gentile came to both Shammai and Hillel wanting to convert on the condition that he only have to learn the Written Law (Shabbos 31a). Shammai rejected him outright, and Hillel showed him how he could not properly convert without learning the Oral Law as well.
This also includes Kabbalah. Torah is never “all or nothing,” but it does demand that a person not stagnate in his learning. As one progresses through Torah, he or she gets more of the big picture, a more accurate vision of reality and how to navigate it. The deeper one delves into Torah, the deeper a person’s version of reality will become.
Perception is a function of assumptions. There is a new book out about how the brain fools us into believing inaccuracies in life. I did not read the book, but I assume that what the author means is that incorrect assumptions about life result in distorted perceptions of reality. It is a person’s distorted perception of reality that leads to abuse, abuse of self, abuse of others, abuse of life.
There are two ways to pick up assumptions about life. They can be learned or they can be absorbed from life itself. The Torah, which is the word of God, teaches correct assumptions, in order to allow a person to develop correct perceptions and to choose a meaningful path in life.
We have an educational system because we have little faith in a child’s ability to assume correctly about life and its experiences. The idea is to pass on accumulated wisdom to the next generation to help them to avoid the mistakes previous generations have made. The trouble is that secular educational systems fall far short of the most important assumptions about life. This is why society can be so off in its approach and solutions to problems, such as the one in the Middle-East.
This is how it was supposed to work. The Jewish people received Torah from God, and were supposed to become experts in it. The Sanhedrin, the Jewish High Court, was supposed to exist to oversee the entire educational operation, and to make sure that the Jewish nation stayed on spiritual track.
The gentile world was supposed to learn Torah as well, but only as much as was necessary for them to be righteous human being (i.e., keeping the 7 Noachide laws). The Jewish people were supposed to educate and guide them, answering all questions that arose which they could not resolve according to the Torah framework in which they lived.
This, of course, did not happen. Instead, the non-Jewish world educated itself. Some Torah concepts managed to make it into their societies, but they adapted them as they saw fit. They even used many against the Jewish people, forcing conversion or offering death as an alternative.
This is the way it has continued until the world got to where it is today. Torah is not only not held in high esteem, it is ridiculed. Jewish advisors exist, but not to impart Torah wisdom. Many stand with the gentile world today against the Jewish people, wondering what it will take to eliminate the distinction between Jew and gentile altogether.
One of the reasons why Jews have always stayed in exile too long is because they have assumed that others would not do unto them what they would not do unto others. By the time they found out otherwise, the means to do anything about it were gone. By the time they realized how different their enemy’s assumptions about life were from theirs, they were already victims of their enemy’s mistaken perceptions.
Here we are, once again, late in history facing off against nations of the world whose assumptions about history are very different from ours. We keep trying to re-educate them, but they won’t be re-educated. We don’t have the credibility, and many don’t even have the credentials. Those who do are off to themselves waiting for Moshiach to make the world the way it is supposed be.
The question is, what can be done at this late stage? How do we protect ourselves against false assumptions and perceptions that are bent on reducing the size of Eretz Yisroel and endangering the Jewish people? The opportunity for preventative medicine is gone. The patient is already sick and in need of a cure.
There is only one. We see it in this week’s parsha. The same thing happened in Egypt. When we came to Egypt, we commanded respect. We had a chance to maintain that respect, and soften the exile. Instead, we abandoned the ways of our fathers, and instead let the Egyptians go their own direction. The result was all the harshness of exile that eventually followed.
By the time the situation became intensely bad, there was no way to reverse the trend. The only solution, one into which we were forced in the end, was to cry out to God, not our local congressmen. We became compelled to beg God for His help, not the leader of a superpower. After all, it’s God’s world, His history, created for man to come to recognize and acknowledge his Creator, not to reject Him.
You can be sure that whatever happens from this point onward will be to this end. The sooner we realize it, the sooner we can end the insanity that is backing the Jewish people into a very dangerous corner.