The recent spate of attacks on our brothers and sisters in America and throughout the world has affected us all on a very deep level. Footage of young men throwing bricks at elderly Jews on their way home from prayer and adults punching children on their way to school is painful to the collective Jewish heart in a way few other things are. While our religion has always stressed a positive outlook on the world, the value of human decency and the presumption of goodness in our fellow man, the hateful violence we are witnessing makes it very difficult to maintain it. We are hurting. We are angry. We are scared.
It is not my place to comment on the agendas predictably being pushed and expectedly pushed back against or the proper steps we should take as a community in the wake of these attacks. My personal focus now is on finding some way to maintain my own belief in the goodness of humanity as a whole after the disappearance of which I am not certain I could find the strength to carry on. But there is one point that is giving me strength that I think is worth thinking about.
It is abundantly clear that the story of Chanukah is about the battle of good against evil, of light against darkness. But in truth, the symbol of this battle, the Chanukah candle, doesn’t really negate darkness. On the contrary, we light Chanukah candles only after the sun has set because it is the darkness that lends context to the candle’s illumination, highlighting the full extent of its warmth and beauty.
As expected, many have reacted to this wave of anti-semitic terror with calls to teshuvah, radical reformation, and dire warnings of the worst that is yet to come if we don’t change our ways. As I said, I am qualified neither to affirm nor to protest such notions. But I think there may be another perspective that is important to consider.
In a few days, nearly one hundred thousand Jews of all ages and backgrounds will gather in one place to celebrate the completion of the seven-year-cycle of Daf Yomi, the study of the entire Talmud, an unparalleled kiddush Hashem. The consistency, sacrifice for Torah, and continuity of our tradition this incredible event marks is absolutely remarkable and a reason for tremendous joy and celebration. But in addition to representing a momentous scholastic and religious accomplishment, the Siyum HaShas also celebrates something else: seven consecutive years of the inherent Jewish goodness and sweetness expressed whenever Jews sit together for a holy purpose. The silent intensity and depth of commitment, the feeling of being lifted beyond this world if even only for a few brief moments. The smiles, perhaps even chuckles at a good “chap” in the sugya. The small acts of daily kindness among shiur members so bound in spirit with the technical discussion in the text. The utmost respect consistently shown for maggidei shiur and for elderly members in the class. Mental exertion permeated with the deepest emotion. Devotion to Torah in the stillness before dawn when the rest of the world sleeps and amidst the din of the workday while the rest of the world pursues an elusive happiness forever chased but never captured. And the list goes on and on.
At this difficult moment in time, we are called upon to take strength in our nation’s grandeur, in our nation’s nobility. AM YISRAEL CHAI! The Jewish nation lives! Through inquisitions and pogroms, through a devastating Holocaust and waves of terror, Hashem’s menorah yet shines in the darkness of a world gone insane. What a privilege it is to be a Jew! Not despite these difficult times, but because of them! How wonderful it is to represent the pinnacle of what it means to be human, an elevated being, to shine a beacon of goodness, compassion, and morality in a hate-infested world! What an honor to walk the streets of the world with a head held high, a mission in our heart and a promise in our hand!
Among other appropriate responses to the cancerous hate spreading rapidly throughout our depraved society, a little Jewish pride is as important as any. Let our encounter with the darkness remind us of just how bright we shine. Let our witness to the barbarity of teenaged hooligans remind us of the great novelty represented by sweet, gentle Jewish children and the elevated values with which they are so carefully and lovingly raised. Let the hatred directed at the common elements shared by diverse Jewish communities highlight and expose the love we feel, deep in our hearts, for every Jewish person regardless of affiliation and background.
Ashreinu, mah tov chelkeinu! What an honor, what a privilege to stand as a proud Jew in these harrowing times, confident in the treasure we carry within and the way in which Hashem is looking down from heaven with the greatest love and endearment, holding our hand and whispering “Yisrael asher b’cha espa’eir”
Through the heightened appreciation of and commitment to the Jewish values we are so blessed to share, may we witness an end to all suffering with the final redemption of our holy nation, speedily and in our days!
With love and abiding hope,