When we look at history, we have the luxury of 20/20 vision. We see the patterns throughout time, as well as the cause and effect of events that we could never have understood if we watched as they unfolded.
The pain of the event, the motives of the persons responsible, and how those things affect us individually inevitably cloud that vision. Yet if we can back up a few paces, and remove our personal emotions, the picture becomes clearer.
Twice, the Jews have been exiled since we first lived in this land as a nation, at the time of Joshua in 1200 BCE. However, over the millennia various peoples have sought our destruction, both physical and spiritual.
The Assyrians were the first to exile Jews from Israel in approximately 733 BCE. While there were certainly external political reasons for this, our tradition teaches that the exile was our punishment for worshiping idols and pagan gods. The Babylonians completed this exile by destroying our Temple and expelling nearly all Jews from the land in 586 BCE. However, in 539 BCE, we returned to rebuild our Temple.
Although the Greeks didn’t exile us, in 168 BCE they worked to sever our connection to our land and our God by outlawing our religion and appealing to our intellectual curiosity and desire for knowledge. They failed — and so we have Chanukah.
The Romans did succeed in exiling us in 70 CE when our terrible treatment of one another brought divine punishment once again. Because of our behavior, we no longer deserved God’s favor, or the Land.
It took 2,000 years and oceans of spilt Jewish blood at the hands of the nations for us to return.
But, now, we are back.
And despite multiple wars forced upon us from multiple fronts,
Despite horrific and devastating terror attacks,
Despite incitement of the worst kind that depicts us as dogs and pigs and baby-killers,
Despite 13-year-olds taught to stab other 13-year-olds in the neck because they are Jews,
Despite the mothers who lose their sons, the fathers who must bury their children,
Despite the fact that we must give our children to the army in order to protect our country,
We are not leaving.
It may be true that the whole world thinks we do not belong here. And it seems that now that they have realized that they cannot make us leave or drive us out, they appeal to our sense of justice — the very thing that Jews spread throughout the world — and turn it against us.
They tell us that by being here, we are violating the rights of others. From Russia to France. From Senegal to New Zealand. And now our “best friends,” too.
But as we light the Chanuka lights, all we need remember is that after 2,000 long and terrible years, we have returned. And the stark truth is that it has only ever been our own actions that caused us to lose our Land.
So let them speak, scream, implore. They can join the Assyrians, Greeks, Babylonians, and Romans in the distant mists of history.
And we can take our destiny into our own hands and stop waiting for the world’s approval, for they only love us when we are on our knees.
Let us make peace with our neighbors — not from a position of guilt or injustice, but from one of strength and a desire for prosperity for both of our peoples.
For, there is no one left to please, no one left to appeal to for favor. This is our land — but we only deserve it if we are good to one another.
And this is the lesson that must be internalized, for we can lose our land again, but not by any outside force. We must end the extremism that causes us to reject one another. We must allow for people to worship as they see fit – so long as they are not harming anyone. We must recall that it was not the Assyrians, the Romans, the Greeks, that ended our relationship with our nation, God, and Land, but our own actions and reactions to one another that expelled us for 2,000 years.
There is no outside force that can be our undoing. Only we can destroy ourselves.