As tall as our ideals

“The Zionists had found a way of spinning humiliation into ideals” writes Matti Friedman in his important new book.

“They’d been hounded from their homes in other countries?  That was fine – their real home had always been in the Land of Israel, and they were planning to go there anyway.  They were refugees?  No – pioneers.  It was brilliant narrative alchemy, and in that terrible century it saved the Jews from the trap of victimhood and reversed their fate.”

As reliably as the calendar brings us to Shabbat Zachor, the particular pre-Purim Sabbath which remembers anti-Semitism’s ancestors, the contemporary prevalence of ‘contempt for Jews’ renders awakening its memory unnecessary.  Alas, we are wide awake.  Yet we refuse to be consigned to victimhood.  To accept victim-status would be to grant Haman’s descendants too much sovereignty.

In this week’s prophetic portion, King Saul loses his crown when he fails as a leader in his contest with Amalek, anti-Semitism’s founder.  Although Saul is physically tall, he is the only biblical leader to be described as ‘small in his own eyes’ (katan b’einecha) (I Sam. 15:17).  He comes up short because his insecurity impairs his capacity to realize his potential.  Self-diminished, he cannot align with God’s will.

You don’t learn about anti-Semitism by studying the Jews.  But you can learn a lot about our People by how we respond to it.   Shabbat Zachor implores us us to not avert our gaze from danger.  But whether we become endangered is in our hands.

Unlike King Saul, we must not permit haters to distract or disfigure our calling (vayikra).  In doing good, we become good.  No mater how dark our surroundings may appear, our essence glows with promise.

May today’s spirit of Zionism continue to urge us to stand erect, as tall as our ideals.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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