An email I received regarding one of my op-ed columns on Times of Israel read as follows: “I think you are 100% correct that the biggest problem Jews face is their constant infighting and lack of unity. HOWEVER [caps in the source], I think you are making a very serious mistake when you end up, in fact, blaming the Jews for all the world problems including antisemitism.” I understand where this view is coming from, and I think this email merits an appropriate reply.
First, the idea that Israel are responsible for their fate, for better or worse, is not mine at all. It has been the view of our sages and spiritual leaders throughout the ages. It is actually the idea that the nations that afflict us are blameworthy that is quite recent. If you read the Talmud, Midrash, The Book of Zohar, and countless other authentic Jewish texts, you will find very few statements (if any) that place the blame on foreign kings and nations.
Below are a few notable examples of our sages placing the responsibility for our woes with us rather than with our enemies. These quotes only scratch the surface of what actually exists, but there is a word limit to newspaper columns. For more information, as well as ideas on how to foster unity, I recommend reading my books The Jewish Choice: Unity or Anti-Semitism and Like a Bundle of Reeds: Why unity and mutual guarantee are today’s call of the hour.
We attribute our woes in Egypt to evil Pharaoh. Yet, we conveniently ignore the words of our sages on this matter. Midrash Rabbah (Shemot 1:8) writes, “When Joseph died, they broke the covenant and said, ‘Let us be as the Egyptians.’ …Because of it, the Lord turned the love that the Egyptians loved them into hatred.” In other words, Pharaoh and the Egyptians did not turn against Israel because Joseph died, but because after his death, the Jews wanted to abandon the unity they had obtained under him and disperse among the Egyptians. This brought upon them the hatred of the Egyptians.
Here is another example from later in our history: In the days of the First Temple, Nebuchadnezzar II conquered the land of Israel and destroyed the Temple only after Jews became spiteful toward each other, slandered each other, shed blood, and “stabbed each other with the daggers in their mouths” (Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 9b).
The page just mentioned in Masechet Yoma (9b) also mentions the reason for the ruin of the Second Temple. In simple words it states, “The Second Temple … why was it ruined? It was because there was unfounded hatred in it.” Elsewhere, the Talmud writes (Yevamot 63a), “No calamity comes to the world but for Israel.”
In one of the most scathing texts ever written about Israel’s obligation to the world, The Book of Zohar details what happens to the world when Israel shun their obligation to set an example of unity to the world. In the part known as Tikkunei HaZohar (Corrections of The Zohar), correction no. 30 is probably the harshest: “Woe unto them,” the disunited Israel, “for they cause poverty and ruin, looting and killing, and destruction in the world. Woe unto them, for with these actions, they bring about the existence of poverty, ruin, and robbery, looting, killing, and destructions in the world.”
On a more positive note, here is what happens when Jews unite. During the period of the Second Temple, when Jews were united, the nations would “go up to Jerusalem and see Israel … and say, ‘It is becoming to cling only to this nation,’” writes the book Sifrey Devarim (354).
More recently, the book Maor VaShemesh writes, “The prime defense against calamity is love and unity. When there are love, unity, and friendship between each other in Israel, no calamity can come over them. … [If] there is bonding among them, and no separation of hearts, they have peace and quiet … and all the curses and suffering are removed by that [unity].” Similarly, the book Maor Eynaim stresses, “When one incorporates oneself with all of Israel and unity is made … at that time, no harm shall come to you,” and the book Shem MiShmuel adds, “When [Israel] are as one man with one heart, they are as a fortified wall against the forces of evil.”
The last example I would like to share is an inspiring quote of one of Israel’s greatest contemporary sages, Rav Kook. In his book Orot HaKodesh, which contains assorted writings penned at different times after World War I, Rav Kook writes, “Since we were ruined by unfounded hatred, and the world was ruined with us, we will be rebuilt by unfounded love, and the world will be rebuilt with us.”
I hope now it is a little clearer why I place the responsibility for our future on our laps, and stress that we can determine our fate through our choice between unity and division. I hope you read my books and appreciate the historic examples contained in it, but most of all, I hope we all unite and put an end to the troubles of our tormented nation, and the troubles of our tormented world.