By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
Throughout the history of the Jewish people, there has scarcely been an epoch when, in one country or another, we haven’t been subjected to malicious defamation. All through the ages, despite our best efforts to be exemplary citizens of our host countries, we have been hated.
It always began innocently enough. Then it escalated according to a predictable pattern and was repeated with countless variations, always beginning with the charge of disloyalty to the government and to the host country. From there the charges typically included accusations so delusional that it would have been comical had it not been so catastrophic.
Among the worst canards was the charge during the Medieval Ages that Jews poisoned the wells, thereby causing the Black Plague that wiped out half of Europe. Despite the lack of evidence and the fact that large numbers of Jews died from the plague along with everyone else, the masses believed this nonsense. Whenever a calamity struck the city, or country, blame was automatically pinned on the Jew. There was never any proof; there never had to be. It was obvious. It was ingrained. It had to be the Jew’s fault. There was no proof, but everyone believed it.
There was a time not that long ago when eveyone believed that Jews were baby killers. They were suspected of snatching babies from Christian mothers and slaughtering them to drink their blood. Think about it. We are – and always were – a humanitarian, peace-loving people. Despite persecution and discrimination, we managed to rise to the highest echelons of government and finance in many of our host countries, and we won distinction for a wide range of humanitarian accomplishments. Yet, the populace actually believed that Jews murdered babies.
These ridiculous accusations were not limited to the primitive superstitious masses of the Dark Ages. We see this peculiar form of insanity recurring in every age, including our own. The Palestinian leadership has accused the Israeli government of poisoning the chewing gum sold to Arab children. A number of years ago, in front of Hillary Clinton, Yassir Arafat’s wife said that Jews were poisoning the Palestinian water supply.
Despite our higher standards of hygiene and cleanliness, we were always portrayed as being filthy, dirty and slimy. We were the sacrificial lamb offered up to the pagan gods whenever there was a need for someone to be blamed. Rational or not, it worked. Seventy years ago, the world witnessed the Holocaust, made possible by the mad paroxysm of Jew-hatred that swept most of the European continent. A serious attempt to finally rid the world of the Jewish problem garnered barely a raised finger from anyone in the civilized world.
Thankfully, today, in most parts of the world, the urge to demonize Jews as a people is less than it was, but it is always lurking in the shadows, often reappearing in muted form as hatred of Israel. Iran’s ruler is arming himself with nuclear weapons to fulfill his aim of wiping the Jewish state off the map. The world toys with him and prattles on and on about stopping him, but shows no inclination to take serious measures to bring Iran’s nuclear program to a halt.
This week Binyomin Netanayahu traveled to the US to deliver a speech on the dangers Iran poses to the world. The US administration spoke out against it. And the president condemned Israel for approving some additional apartments to be built in Yerushalayim. Israel’s historical ties to the land and the holy city are ignored in the latest attack on the legitimacy of the Zionist state. The media ignored Netanyahu’s speech and the dangers posed by Iran, Instead they dedicated their Mideast coverage to bashing Israel’s nefarious claims to east Jerusalem.
In most of the world media, Israel is depicted as an evil apartheid state. Jews around the world must always be on guard for the next act of terror. And we wonder why. What have we done to earn this enmity? When did this irrational hatred start and is there any hope at all of eradicating it?
Learning the parshiyos of Sefer Bereishis, we find that the world’s antipathy toward Jews began almost as soon as Avrohom Avinu, while contemplating the world, determined there had to be a Creator. This loathing of Jews has continued down the chain of generations. Our sages trace it to the world’s virulent rejection of the notion of man’s accountability to his Creator.
Avrohom’s own father wanted him out of the way. Nimrod tried to burn Avrohom alive. Avrohom was mocked and vilified. He was designated as Avrohom Ha’ivri, the one from the “other side.” That pariah status was transferred to his descendants, beginning with Yitzchok Avinu, who was treated as an outcast by his neighbors.
Wherever Yitzchok went, as related in last week’s parsha, his wells were stuffed up. Time after time, he was forced to move on, again encountering the same hostile reception. Though blessed with wealth and unquestionably a kind, peaceful, spiritual man, nobody wanted to have anything to do with him. They drove him away by plugging up the sources of his water supply.
In this week’s parsha, we learn how Yaakov Avinu was repeatedly lied to and tricked out of what was deservedly his. After working for Lavan for two decades, Yaakov is finally instructed by Hashem to return home. He then gathered his wives, his children and his flocks and departed for home.
Lavan caught up with him and accused him of stealing his property and running off like a thief. Yaakov responded by confronting Lavan, the paradigm con-artist, with the history of his subterfuge and dishonest dealings. Yaakov listed everything he had done for Lavan during his years of servitude to him. He enumerated all the ways that Lavan had robbed him, reminding him of how he altered the terms of Yaakov’s employment one hundred times in order to shortchange him.
All of this had no impact on the slippery, self-righteous Lavan. As if he hadn’t heard a word, Lavan merely insisted on his right of ownership over all that Yaakov had. “Habanos benosai, vehabonim bonai, vehatzon tzonai, vechol asher atah ro’eh li hu.”
The posuk doesn’t record Yaakov’s response to Lavan’s outrageous claims. The posuk recounts that Yaakov took a stone and held it up as a matzeivah. He sent his children to gather stones, and they took the stones and fashioned a “gal,” a mound, and had a meal there.
Our avos demonstrated for us how we are to respond to those who plot our downfall, seeking to destroy us through various schemes and accusing us of the very crimes that they themselves have perpetrated against us.
Despite the enmity and harassment, Avrohom continued to gain more adherents to the concept of One Creator to whom man owes an accounting for all his deeds. Yitzchok moved on and dug new wells. Yaakov carried on with his mission of raising twelve Shivtei Kah.
So often, we are attacked for our beliefs, and ridiculed for our lifestyle. We are maligned and misunderstood. When we raise awareness for Jews who have been unfairly treated by the justice system, instead of joining hands with us, people mock us and say we condone unlawful behavior, even though we clearly act to advance the cause of justice.
When we vote for the Democrat, we are called pinko-commie-liberals who haven’t gotten over FDR and his make-work projects which gave immigrant Jews the ability to sustain themselves and their families. When we vote for the Republican candidate, they say we are voting against our own interests. When we agitate for moral causes, we are vilified as being self-righteous and impractical. We can’t win.
When we point out the double standard in the world’s castigation of Israel and the unveiled world bias against the Jewish state, we are called unpatriotic. We are referred to pejoratively as Zionists, racists, and defenders of an imperial state which mistreats its Arab citizenry.
When we protest this defamation, our enemies accuse us of controlling the media, the banks, the politicians and the government. Yet, when we keep silent in the face of these vicious reincarnations of ancient libels, they spread even faster.
Faced with this conundrum, there is only one remedy. Our avos have taught us that in the face of vicious opposition, we are to hold course and remain loyal Jews. Even when mocked and beaten, we are to assert our beliefs and throw ourselves into acts of goodness. The more the haters harass us, the more Torah we are to study. The more they accuse us of sins we never committed, the more determined we must be to persist in our path of faith, kindness and justice.
The same advice applies to less epic challenges that confront us in our everyday lives. When your integrity is compromised and family and friends turn on you, or when you give everything you have to your job and your boss accuses you of goofing off, the natural urge is to fight with all your strength to set the record straight.
It hurts when people don’t judge you fairly. You are pained when people who ought to know better, say that you aren’t doing a good job. But what do you do about it? Do you shout back at them? Do you respond in kind? Do you keep on pressing your point even when you are getting nowhere and your adversary is clearly indifferent to your arguments?
Yaakov Avinu shows us the answer. When accused by Lavan, he set the record straight with his own testimony and refused to debate the issue any further. He set out to build.
When Lavan chased Yaakov and refused his entreaties, Yaakov told his children to gather stones and construct a gal. He was demonstrating for us that when the Lavans of the world vilify you, the proper course is not to respond in kind by throwing stones back at them. Instead, gather stones for the purpose of building.
When confronted with negativity and cynicism, when your motives are questioned and doubted, remain positive and assured. Keep your eyes on the goal and don’t get blind-sighted by the ruts on the way. Build.
Had Avrohom allowed himself to be cowed by the people of his day, he would have relinquished the role of progenitor of Am Yisroel. Had Yitzchok permitted the Pelishtim to deter him by blocking his water supply, he would not have merited being part of the glorious chain begun by his father. Had Yaakov succumbed to Lavan’s abuse, he never would have left his father-in-law’s home and wouldn’t have raised the twelve sons who formed the nucleus of our people.
It is difficult to persevere in the face of so much hostility and opposition. It takes toughness to be able to ignore naysayers and public opinion, but to succeed we must access moral courage by reaching into our deepest spiritual reserves. Our strength is Torah, our goal is Torah, our life is Torah. No one can take that from us, as hard as they try. As long as we remember that lesson, we will be strong, safe and victorious, and the path we have forged will lead to the ultimate redemption, may it be soon, in our days.