Did you ever think that you need a vacation from a vacation? That’s how I felt when I left the Kotel the final night of Chanukah. The Kotel was as usually overwhelmingly full of its eternal beauty, from its stones to the serious daveners to the clueless tourists who are all there to find something more. It’s time to move from the stark contrast of the deep black of the Hellenistic culture of self and the flame of the way Torah burnt its emblem in the hearts of the Macabees. It’s time to just head home, make this week’s menu, put up the colored wash, and get on with the subtle joy of the ordinary.
Then I read the news. There was a sum up of the latest wave of anti-Semitism that rolled over America in the last months. Over Chanukah alone there were 13 reported incidents. It finally hit home-things are different now. Does that mean that escalating violence is the new normal? Maybe-not being a prophet- I don’t have the latest word. This is of course not the first time we were hated, nor is it the first time that this kind of thing took place in the Home of the Brave and the Land of the Free. It is, however the first time I personally realized that my tacit assumption that It Can’t Happen Here is based on nothing but optimism. The force of this realization made it hard to retreat into the delightful monotone I had planned on enjoying, and maybe that’s how it has to be.
Historically there are three responses that work, all of which are learned from the way Yaakov responded to Eisov’s hostility when he found out that Eisov was planning an attack:
1-The first and most important one is tefillah. Our only real strength as a people are in our words. We have never been empire builders or knights in shining armor. Speech is the bridge between the soul and the body-it gives expression to the soul by using the body, the mouth teeth, tongue etc. We are good at making that kind of bridge. We are people of soul. We also know how to use he physical world to serve Hashem. Real prayer means addressing your soul and body to Hashem, and using words to express your utter dependency on Him, and your trust that the One who sustains every leaf on every tree sustains you as well. Don’t sabotage this realization by getting into “I deserve more/better because You owe me”, since we owe Him everything it’s a bad negotiation tactic. Let Tefillah do its job. It’s meant to express the hidden love and awe that can get lost in day to day life. Hashem answers sincere prayer, and that is why it is step one.
2-Appeasment is also valid even though it has such awful connotations. If being willing to financially participate in valid neighborhood projects, walking the extra mile to be kind, being willing to let honesty and integrity mean being willing to sometimes NOT stand up for your rights in the system. There are people who look at us through Lavan’s eyes. When Yaakov left after decades of work, mistreatment, deceit, Lavan said, “The girls (Yaakov’s wives, for whom he worked 14 years!) are my daughters. The sheep (for whom he worked on Lavan’s terms) are my sheep. Everything you have is mine”. If we can be less conspicuous in our spending even though our money is earned, Sforno points out, we may be doing ourselves a favor.
3-Self- defense. Yaakov was willing to fight to save himself and his family. He would not accept passivity or defeatism to be his final farewell. This is too important to forget. We need to be conscious of security and also less passive about the double talk that comes from the higher windows. Hatred can’t be tolerated, but is it really dealt with? Are the perpetrators really imprisoned? Being militant can mean thinking that “I can be strong enough to save myself” without Hashem’s help. Nothing can be further from the truth. Your role would be to express the way you believe that He is here for you by making efforts that demonstrate how much you value your life.
Some people have asked me (remember, me-Tziporah the non-prophet) whether it’s time to move to Israel. You know me. From my perspective it’s ALWAYS the time to move to Israel. What could be better than the Kotel on a cold winter night? It’s good to come to Eretz Yisrael. I am certainly not about to say that I have the depth of insight to know whether or not it’s the time to move from the U.S. What I do know is that its time to be sure that you are glad that you are you and not them-the haters.
Yaakov’s formula of prayer, appeasement, and self-defense should ideally give you back the inner peace to let yourself be in two places at once; You are as secure in your place in Hashem’s Hands as a baby is in his mother’s lap. He doesn’t know or care where else he is. We have weathered a lot, but we are here living our lives with simchah, higher consciousness, and fun.
For those of you in Israel, I am enclosing an ad for a Shabbos devoted to regaining Simchas Chaim!
For those of you who are in Israel and those of you who are not, I will conclude with my wishes that
You see Hashem in the ordinary
And in the fire and the dark
That your words touch your heart
And your love of life replace your fear
Of death and destruction