July 14, 2024
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A Time of Confusion and Clarity

Veha’ir Shushan Navocha

The Jews of Shushan were confused.

They considered Shushan and the Persian empire their home and viewed themselves as central to its social and political structure. They knew Haman hated them, but they assumed the king would never adopt his genocidal suggestions. Haman was an extremist, but the Persian “mainstream” was tolerant and accepted the Jewish people. Achashveirosh invited them to his lavish party, where he served kosher food. How could he suddenly call for their annihilation?

Like Yaakov’s family in Mitzrayim, Persian Jews contributed to society and thought they were safe. Sadly—like Yaakov’s family—they were suddenly targeted for persecution. For the first time since Egypt, the Jewish people were back in exile and, once again, subject to the whims of their host nation and its leaders.

 

Confusion Throughout the Ages

The Babylonian and Persian empires were the first of many stops during our lengthy exile. We returned to Israel and rebuilt the Beit Hamikdash but were exiled again after its destruction. Scattered across the globe, we continued suffering the same fate.

We contributed to our host countries and often achieved positions of power and prominence. We assumed that we were safe because we were appreciated and respected. And then, often without warning, we were attacked, persecuted, and even expelled.

The Jews of Shushan were not the last to feel confused. Jews of England, Germany, France, Spain, Russia, Ukraine, and eventually, everyone in European and Arabic lands suffered the same fate.

 

Contemporary Confusion

Today, we are even more confused than our ancestors. Our liberal societies purportedly do not judge their citizens based on their religious or ethnic identity. We assumed that our Jewish identity would no longer be an issue and that we would no longer be attacked. Though there would always be antisemites, we were confident that the educated and tolerant mainstream had learned the lesson of the Holocaust. We assumed we would never again be hypocritically singled out.

We were wrong. The events since October 7 were a rude awakening. We receive little sympathy and are even accused of the very crimes perpetrated against us. We were attacked by a terrorist organization that continues to declare its genocidal intentions, and we are the ones charged with genocide.

Jews in New York, London and Paris are confused. How could hundreds of thousands march in favor of Hamas and the destruction of the state of Israel, shouting Nazi propaganda? How could universities—supposed bastions of humanism and multiculturalism—tolerate calls to attack and murder Jews? How could the ICJ seriously consider the slanderous claims against the state of Israel?

Thousands of years have passed since Shushan, but we remain confused. Why are we always attacked, mistreated, isolated and lonely?

 

Confusion’s Cause

Yechezkel HaNavi (20:32-33) explains that Hashem uses antisemitism to stem our assimilation. When Jews see themselves as part of broader society, Hashem ensures that society reminds us that we are different. We are “the nation that dwells alone,” (Bamidbar 23:9) because we have a special relationship with Hashem and a unique mission in His world.

The Abarbanel (Yechezkel 20) saw Yechezkel’s prophecy as relevant to his generation as well. Jews flourished in the Iberian Peninsula for centuries. They felt part of the Spanish and Portuguese societies and their Golden Age. Then suddenly, they were persecuted—and eventually banished. Based on Yechezkel’s prophecy, the Abarbanel explained that the persecution was meant to remind Jews that they were different—not part of Spanish and Portuguese societies.

Anne Frank (April 11, 1944) responded similarly to Nazi oppression. “The persecution reminds us that we are not like the rest of the nations of the world—we have a higher purpose… We can never become just Netherlanders, or just English or representatives of any country for that matter. We will always remain Jews.”

Yirmiyahu HaNavi begins Megillat Eicha (1:1, 19) by wondering why the Jewish people are so isolated and why no one consoles us when we suffer. He answers that Hashem keeps others from sympathizing so that we are forced to return to Him (ibid. 1:8,18). Knowing that only Hashem cares for us forces us to turn to Him.

 

Clarity

Like our ancestors in the times of Yechezkel, Yirmiyahu, the Abarbanel and Anne Frank, we too, now have clarity. Many of us had felt welcome in host countries around the world. We gained entry into elite schools, professions and neighborhoods. We believed that our societies had overcome racism, prejudice and discrimination. We seemed entirely accepted as individuals and as a nation among the nations. Recent events are a rude reminder that this is not the case.

May we realize that this is because we are meant to strengthen our unique Jewish identity rooted in our special relationship with Hashem.

The time has come to revisit and internalize the words of Anne Frank (ibid.): “Who has made us Jews different from all other people? Who has allowed us to suffer so terribly up until now? It is God who has made us as we are, but it will be God, too, Who will raise us up again. Who knows, it might even be our religion from which the world and all peoples learn good, and for that reason and only that reason do we suffer.”

May our confusion help us achieve true clarity.


Rabbi Reuven Taragin is the dean of overseas students at Yeshivat HaKotel.

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