Just when we think we have seen everything, we get thrown a new curveball. I don’t think it was news to anyone that college campuses, especially Ivy League campuses, have become increasingly more hostile to Jewish students. And yet, watching the testimony of the leadership from premier universities during the recent U.S. congressional hearing on antisemitism, was jarring and painful. The complete abdication of moral leadership was shocking. When asked repeatedly by Congressional Representative Elise Stefanik, a New York Republican and Harvard graduate, if calling for the genocide and mass violence of the Jewish People would violate the university code of conduct, the university heads equivocated and refused to outright declare that it would violate their codes of conduct. One could only imagine how severe, decisive and swift the reaction would be if the calls for genocide were directed at another minority or ethnic group.
As I recently read the weekly Torah portion, it dawned on me that perhaps we should not be surprised. Right there, within the Torah story of Esav’s reconciliation with his brother Yaakov after years of hating and pursuing Yaakov in order to murder him, we have a hint at the reality of Esav’s role in the world that was manifested through this episode. The hint comes in the form of several unusual dots that are placed over the Hebrew word וישקהו, translated as “and he kissed him,” indicating a deeper message.
The context of this verse is Esav’s reconciliation with Yaakov. After years of wanting to kill Yaakov, Esav’s heart melted, and he embraced him with a kiss. The famous medieval commentator known as Rashi quotes one of the commentaries that even though Esav was overwhelmed with compassion and embraced Yaakov at that moment, these dots indicate that the “halacha” (law of the world) is actually that Esav hates Yaakov. There might be a slight pause to this hatred, but then it returns. After all, this is the “law”.
It seems odd that Rashi would choose “law” to describe Esav’s feelings for Yaakov. After all, why would this be a “law”? There doesn’t seem to be anything legal about a hateful ideology!
Recently, a notable speech given in the U.S. Senate by Senator Schumer sheds some light on this issue. While Senator Schumer was talking about the sting of the unfair double standard the Jewish People are feeling at this time, he quoted the late Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Abba Eban. Eban, who was visiting a college campus to give a speech in which Schumer attended, said the following (paraphrased) to a group of disgruntled protestors waging a campaign against Israel’s right to exist: “Every time a people gets their statehood, you applaud it. The Nigerians, the Pakistanis, the Zambians, you applaud their getting statehood. There’s only one people, when they gain statehood, who you don’t applaud, you condemn it — and that is the Jewish people.”
“The words ring true as if they were said today. What more, we have lived with this type of double standard throughout the centuries. There were always things the Jews weren’t allowed to do in the various societies, countries and times they lived in: everyone could be a farmer, but not the Jew; everyone could be a carpenter, but not the Jew; everyone could move to Moscow, but not the Jew; Everyone can have their own state, but not the Jew.”
To understand this irrational, hateful ideology, it is informative to return to Rashi’s word choice noted above when he described Jew-hatred as a “halacha\law.” Not unlike (but obviously not identical) to the laws of physics, the Jew-hatred that exists today is equivalent to the principles that the world runs on. G-d has set it up that just as gravity determines that what goes up must come down, so too the seeds of Jew hatred are constantly in the hearts of the descendants of Esav, determining their actions all around us. During times of quiet we have wishfully told ourselves that the days of pervasive Jew hatred are over and civilization is much more enlightened and less hostile to the Jewish People. And yet, while at times those seeds are more dormant than others, current events remind us they are still forever planted within the hearts of Esav’s descendants, waiting to germinate with the right fodder.
The current fodder is the existence of the State of Israel and the Jewish State’s right to defend itself. The past two months have demonstrated that this “halacha” of Jew-hatred has mutated to unimaginable areas of society including the college campuses we had relied on to educate the next generation and provide a moral compass through their noble pursuit of higher knowledge.
As we strive to enjoy our current holiday and eerily think back to how different the world seemed during our last set of holidays in Tishrei, it is helpful to remember the teaching of Reb Shlomo Eiger of Lublin who lived in the 19th century: He taught that there are two ways to awaken someone– either with a loud sound or by turning on a bright light. On Rosh Hashana, we are awakened by the loud call of the shofar, but on Hanukkah, if we celebrate it correctly, we are awakened by the bright lights of faith that emanate from the Hanukkah candles. As we process the harsh realities and rude awakenings of the times we are living in, we have surely awoken. May we as a people cling to G-d and each other, remembering that even though G-d set up the world for Esav’s descendants to hate us, it is clear that we have a bright destiny ahead as G-d has ultimately promised us. I find comfort in the famous Chasidic teaching of “a little light dispels a lot of darkness.” Let us take the spiritual light of Hanukkah with us into the dark winter as fortification and may we together be that light that dispels the darkness around us.