July 17, 2024
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July 17, 2024
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Twelve leaders were dispatched on an excursion to collect intel about the land of Israel. Tragically, they turned against Hashem and against Jewish history. They returned with terrifying reports about cities fortified to the sky and about a fearsome land roaming with giants who dwarfed human beings into the size of insects. Their devious slander and cowardly lack of faith derailed Jewish history.

What was shocking was the complete lack of any debate or internal discussion. Hadn’t Hashem just liberated them from Egyptian slavery, split the raging oceans and parted the heavens at Sinai? Shouldn’t He be trusted to assure the successful settlement of the land which He Himself had promised? Panicked and delirious with fear, they betrayed ancient divine promises.

Only two of these men displayed any courage. Yehoshua, Moshe’s closest talmid and his future successor, could be counted upon to remain loyal to his mentor. Alongside Yehoshua, Calev, a relatively unknown person, also defied this insidious conspiracy, almost succeeding in restoring public faith. Where did he get his courage and his strength from?

Part of the answer is that he drew his conviction from his “defiant” wife, herself trained to resist public opinion. According to one report in the Gemara, Calev married Batya, the Egyptian princess who had rescued Moshe from a watery death. Her heroic rebellion against the system was a bold defiance of her own father’s decree. Batya rebelled against the Egyptian culture of blood and death, saved a Jewish infant and triggered our liberation from Egypt. Years later, her husband Calev demonstrated similar fortitude by refusing to sheepishly fall in line with the conspirators. Two rebels, married in resistance, defied public opinion and almost rescued Jewish history.

Calev was rewarded by being one of the few of his generation to enter Israel. The Torah announces that he had “a different spirit” about him. His non-conformist spirit emboldened him to resist the mob and to deliver truths. Whether people were willing to accept truths is another matter. Regardless, he stood up to lies and to distortion. He had a different spirit.

 

Group Thinking

One of the great ironies of the internet revolution is that it encourages herd mentality. Ideally, the internet should be a democratizing force, decentralizing the information flow, and empowering people to consume only the information they choose.

However, as with all human liberties, unconditional freedoms turn into oppressive cultural tyrannies. Instead of fostering greater personal autonomy, social media has exacerbated group thinking. Social media incarcerates us in echo chambers which limit what we see and what we are exposed to. Additionally, it creates viral content compelling us to join popular trends without full evaluation of the facts. Moreover, social media empowers influencers with disproportionate sway regarding issues they are completely uneducated about. Finally, social media allows false ideas to quickly spread, creating the bogus impression of truth. All these factors incite a herd mentality.

We have witnessed the toxic effects of herd mentality weaponized in the attack against our people and against the truth. Herd mentality has become a mob mentality. The victims of violence have been miscast as criminals. Calls for ceasefire have degenerated into chants for the murder of Jews.

It is frustrating that so many get it so wrong. It is frustrating that so many are so blinded by hate, that they have absolutely no interest in even the basic facts. It is frustrating to see the world go insane with anger and hatred.

It is not only frustrating, but also frightening. Frightening to watch mobs of antisemites hunt innocent people in Jewish neighborhoods around the world. Frightening to see Jewish stores and synagogues looted and frightening to face the venomous hatred of an enraged world.

 

To Stand Alone

Yet, we are people of a different spirit, and we have faced this hatred before. It has been our legacy to stand tall and block out the noise and the hatred. We have always possessed this courage and this “different spirit” and our current crisis should be no different.

The Gemara records that, upon entering Israel, Calev detoured to Chevron to visit the Me’arat Hamachpeilah and to daven for the strength to defy the spies. Standing at the graves of our Avot and Imahot, he surely identified with their ability to stand alone and resist their own culture. These founders of our nation weren’t yet referred to as Jews or even as Israelites, but as Ivrim, or those from the “other side.” They had the courage to stand on one side while the entire world stood on the other side. To be a Jew is to be comfortable standing alone.

For centuries, we preached monotheism to a world drunk with pagan gods. We stood alone. For centuries we spoke of a civil society which preserved the dignity of man, while the world was subjugated by brutal tyrants and miserable societies. We stood alone. For the past thousand years, we faced malicious hostility and brutal violence while we were consistently demonized as the “other.” We stood alone.

During the nightmare of the Holocaust, Hitler tried to erase us from this planet, while much of the world stood by silently. We stood alone. During the first few decades of the State of Israel, hostile Arab countries partnered with the powerful Soviet Union in an attempt to crush our small country. We stood alone.

We have always been the people of a “different spirit,” unafraid to stand alone. Now is no different.

As the people of a “different spirit,” we cannot be intimidated by the violence and the rage we face. This is our responsibility to past generations who stood tall and stood alone. We owe it to them. They would gladly trade places with us if they could. They didn’t have a State or an army to protect them. They didn’t live in the company of a Jewish people returning to their homeland to jointly build a common future. They stood alone and lonely. We stand alone and united. We owe it to them to summon our courage and to preserve our “different spirit.”

As the people of a different spirit, we have a debt to Jewish history. We owe it to past generations to maintain our own inner moral conviction and to not allow crazed mobs of confused college students to muddle our clarity. Just because hordes of antisemites or crowds of bewildered college puppets vilify us as the aggressors, doesn’t alter the fact that, since our return to Israel, we have been ceaselessly attacked, and additionally, that we were the primary victims of October 7. We consistently seek peace while our enemies always seek death.

We owe it to past generations to continue this war to its necessary conclusion, which we alone must determine. We cannot allow international pressure to prevent us from ending this war a moment sooner than it should or from defending our country and providing a safer world for our children.

We owe it to past generations not to be afraid. The Torah prohibits fear for soldiers engaged in war. Of course, the Torah cannot legislate against the emotion of fear. Rather, it demands that we manage fear just as we manage our other emotions. There is a thin line between fear and panic and the Torah warns us against crossing it.

We have a different spirit. We have outlasted all our enemies, and we will outlast hatred and antisemitism. Don’t be afraid to stand alone. It is part of Jewish identity. Emunah. Courage. Spirit.


The writer is a rabbi at Yeshivat Har Etzion/Gush, a hesder yeshiva, with ordination from Yeshiva University and a master’s in English literature from CUNY. He is the author of “Dark Clouds Above, Faith Below”(Kodesh Press), which provides religious responses to Oct. 7.

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