By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
All too often, we forget we are in golus. Despite some bumps in the road, we have it so good here that one day, historians will look back at this era as The Golden Age of American Jewry. We stride down the streets, confident of our rights. We spend so much money on houses, you would think we plan on being here forever. We run for – and hold – public office in unprecedented numbers.
We are very rarely reminded that we are far removed from our own plantation. Our present day comfort obscures the fact that since the Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed thousands of years ago, we are basically a nomadic people. We are refugees wandering from country to country, and continent to continent, until the great shofar is blown to announce that it is time to go home. But aside from a few times a year, we don’t give much thought to that reality.
The Holocaust is but a distant memory for the bulk of the Jewish people. Our children, for the most part, have no clue that it even happened. In the major urban areas where many of us reside, we never get to experience overt anti-Semitism. The periods of history during which Jews were expelled from their homes and hunted down by fanatical mobs are so far in the past, most find it hard to believe such days ever existed. Stories of Jews being rounded up and sent to jail or concentration camps, or murdered outright, seem like fanciful tales out of the pages of Zaydie’s Mayselach.
On the Yom Tov of Pesach, we celebrate Yetzias Mitzrayim. At the Seder, we eat matzoh, the bread of redemption, along with maror and charoses, which remind us of the pain the Jews suffered in slavery. For without the reminders of bondage, one cannot fully celebrate freedom. Thus we begin the recitation of the Haggadah with genus, recalling the humble beginnings of our nationhood and tracing its trajectory through Mitzrayim towards Matan Torah and shevach.
Today, it would seem that we require golus reminders in order for us to appreciate what it is we need to yearn for. We have been following the saga of Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin, a wonderful Jew singled out for selective and overzealous prosecution. This would never have taken place had he been living in a major urban area where concerned parties would have been able to shine a spotlight on the corrupt forces that targeted him for destruction.
In the small towns of Iowa and South Dakota, where Jewish stereotypes linger, canards about Jews were better able to gain traction, leading to the incarceration of a good, law-abiding person, who was “doing G-‘s work in Postville, Iowa,” as his non-Jewish lawyer describes him.
Which leads us to an even starker golus reminder: the latest international frenzy over an Israeli announcement about construction in an Israeli neighborhood. The office of Eli Yishai had the sheer chutzpah to announce that a construction project in one of Yerushalayim’s newer neighborhoods had passed through its many bureaucratic hurdles and was slated to be built in three years. That announcement triggered a major flap.
The problem? The neighborhood is not recognized by the world as belonging to Israel. Though it is a part of the country since the 1967 war and is within the municipal boundaries of Yerushalayim, Ramat Shlomo, which is inhabited by 40,000 people, is considered by America and the world to be in East Jerusalem, and, as such, is as much Palestinian as Israeli.
No doubt when the media refers to “disputed East Jerusalem,” you think they are talking about the Old City. You never imagined that they mean Ramot and so many other neighborhoods you thought everyone knows are, and always will be, Yerushalayim.
Well, you are wrong. The world doesn’t even recognize any part of Yerushalayim as being Jewish and Israeli. That is why almost every country that has relations with Israel refuses to move its embassy to the Jewish nation’s capital city.
Following Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s apology for the timing of the announcement during Vice President Joe Biden’s visit, and Biden’s acceptance of the apology, President Barack Obama decided to orchestrate an international incident and ordered his administration to begin slamming Israel.
Obama seems to be making good on what he told a Jewish group in an off the record conversation in the White House in July of last year. At that time he said that he believed that America had to push for an end to all settlements, in the West Bank and Yerushalayim, if for no other reason than to create “space” between America and Israel in order “to change the way the Arabs see us.”
First it was Biden who, while still in Israel, expressed some grievance with the announcement.
This is the same man who said in his previous incarnation as US Senator, “Why is it that the one ally we have in that part of the world, we feel we have the right to publicly chastise them? We would not do that with any other friend… As much as the Middle East is always on our minds, the best thing we can do is keep it off the US and world press.”
This “emboldens those in the Middle East and around the world who still harbor as their sacred goal the elimination of Israel,” Biden said at the time. “It is not for you to tell them, nor for me, what is in their best interests. We should give them the right to determine what chances they will take.”
But Biden is not his own man anymore and he now takes orders from the Obama. Obviously, Obama wasn’t happy with the way Biden reacted to the move, so he sat down with Secretary Of State Hillary Clinton, who relayed Obama’s anger to Netanyahu in unusually tough, blunt language.
Hours after Mrs. Clinton’s 45-minute phone call, the US joined with Russia, the EU and the UN to issue a further condemnation. The Israeli ambassador to Washington was called in for a tongue-lashing. The State Department spokesman, who last week apologized for insulting Muammar Gadhafi, told a press conference that Clinton called Netanyahu “to make clear the United States considered the announcement a deeply negative signal about Israel’s approach to the bilateral relationship and counter to the spirit of the vice president’s trip. This action had undermined trust and confidence in the peace process and in America’s interests.”
And so it went. Last fall, at Obama’s behest, Netanyahu announced a ten-month moratorium on construction on the West Bank. Yerushalayim was not included in the deal which Hillary Clinton praised back then as “unprecedented.” The idea was to entice the Palestinians to join talks with Israel. Of course that never happened. But now Israel is being castigated for merely announcing that building will take place in three years in an area of their capital in which they have been building since 1993, and in which 40,000 people reside.
But to America, this is the reason there is no peace in the Mideast: Ramot is a settlement, and Yerushalayim is disputed territory.
And now, once again, the administration says, “We think the burden is on the Israelis to do something that could restore confidence in the process and to restore confidence in the relationship with the United States.” Give up more land, make more concessions. Since Israel vacated, Gaza has been as peaceful a utopia as everyone predicted it would be.
Obama, reeling from the near failure of his signature domestic political agenda and scorned around the world, has found a new ally to pick a fight with. He seems to be reverting to the positions he took at the outset of his presidency when he toured the world, apologizing for America’s missteps and reaching out to Muslims. His outreach to Iran has brought the world closer to Armageddon, yet you don’t hear the kind of public criticism such moves should warrant. Israel and the Jews are the whipping boys once again.
We can’t help but wonder why. Why is it that no matter what we do, the nations of the world despise us? Why is it that despite all that Israel has done to demonstrate its interest in living peacefully with its neighbors, it is never enough, and the world persists in blaming the tiny country for being the aggressor?
These logic-defying circumstances are meant to remind us that we are golus. If we want to merit redemption, we have to want it, we have to pray for it, and we have to earn sources of merit. The Yomim Tovim remind us of our destiny to once again be oleh regel and to become spiritually elevated by absorbing the kedushah of Yerushalayim and the Bais Hamikdosh. The world’s determination to keep us from those sacred places should goad us to work ever harder to maintain the drive and longing to bring the redemption closer.
For the Jewish people throughout the ages, every chapter of our history since the churban has reinforced the teaching of Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai that “halacha hi beyoduah she’Eisav sonei leYaakov.” It is a built-in principle of natural law that Eisav hates Yaakov and will forever. The only way to suppress that hatred and to keep Eisav from destroying us is by strengthening our connection to Torah and mitzvos.
We can truly advance by studying and observing Torah, by enabling others to study and observe Torah, and by intensifying our fidelity to its commandments. If we keep all of the Torah, the Torah will keep all of us. If we protect G-d’s word, G-d will protect us. He will strengthen us and guard us from our enemies.
Throughout the ages, whenever we slackened off in our observance of Torah and mitzvos, the wrath of this or that nation was unleashed against us. Our own actions precipitate so much of the crises and troubles besieging us. Our conduct and our level of yiras Shomayim and bitachon affect what presidents and prime ministers do.
As we sit at the Seder and celebrate our deliverance from Mitzrayim, we will recount the story of Yetzias Mitzrayim and enumerate all that Hakadosh Boruch Hu did for us. Let us pray that each and every one of us is zocheh to do so in freedom.
Let us pray that this year, on Zeman Cheiruseinu, all Jews will truly be free.