Don’t let antisemites define us; it’s time for us to define ourselves!
The world’s oldest hatred has once again reared its ugly head. This time in the highest offices of the United States! One rabid antisemite has recently announced his bid for the Presidency and all four members of the antisemitic “Squad” were reelected to their positions in the mid-term elections. As Jews, we have good reason to grow anxious, but what can we truly do about it?
Since time immemorial, we have speculated on the reason that they hate us. But you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realize that these explanations are nothing but an excuse: They said we were hated because we were rich, but we know that we were just as persecuted when we were poor. They claim to abhor us because we were segregated, but they killed us too when we were integrated. They despised us for being capitalists, yet they couldn’t tolerate us when we were communists either. They were hostile to us when we were strangers in their land, but now they are cruel to us when we finally have our own homeland. They claimed that they kill us because of the “settlements” in Israel, yet the very same groups murdered us before a single “settlement” was ever built in 1967.
Any attempt to cure antisemitism by appeasing those who hate us is truly the definition of insanity—expecting different results while doing the same actions we’ve already done before. It’s time for fresh thinking—it’s time to think out of the box and set the record on antisemitism straight, once and for all!
All we need to do is look into the Torah, where the reason for antisemitism is made abundantly clear at the very beginning of it all. Nearly 3,700 years ago, The Torah introduces us to the very first antisemite—Esau, brother of Jacob. After Jacob was blessed with the blessings of Isaac their father, Esau begged Isaac for his own blessing too. Isaac was unable to do so because “I have already made him a master over you (Genesis 27:37).” When Esau persists, Isaac blesses him with a unique loophole: “Only when Jacob will transgress the Torah, you will be able to persecute him (Genesis 27:40).”
The Bible makes it crystal clear that antisemitism is only possible when Jews stray from their identity as Torah Jews! If we’re serious about overcoming antisemitism and creating a safer world for ourselves and our children, it’s time for us to experience some deep inner reflection. The Torah is our Divine Shield—an “Iron Dome” if you will. Are we allowing the haters to hurt us by negligently removing our own bullet-proof vests and exposing ourselves to their “slings and arrows”?
It’s time to stop shooting the messenger. Yesterday it was Henry Ford and Farrakhan; today it’s Kanye and Ayatolla Khameini. Bringing them down won’t stop others like them from raising their ugly heads with ever more brazen animus. It’s truly a game of whack-a-mole. As one antisemite is neutralized, another raises his ugly head. This is never going to stop from the outside until we change something drastically from the inside.
In other words, antisemitism cannot be dismissed simply as an irrational hatred, because it’s so much more than that—it’s congenital! Since Esau nearly four millennia ago, the hatred persists. It can only bear fruit when we are spiritually weak. Our sincerest efforts to mitigate our provocation of the gentiles by trying to assimilate and hide our Jewish identity so that they won’t notice us or be offended by our behavior is, ironically, the precise cause of their ability to rise up against us!
It’s time for us to stop playing defense when it comes to antisemitism—Instead of allowing the antisemites to define our Judaism, it’s time for us Jews to define our own Jewish identity! It’s time for us to love Judaism more than they hate Judaism! It’s time for us to believe in our own Torah more than they reject it!
We see this truth at play in the dramatic confrontation between Esau and Jacob. After thirty-six years of running away from Esau, Jacob is finally preparing to face his blood-thirsty brother who marches ominously towards him with 400 mercenaries. Yet, when Esau finally confronts Jacob, inexplicably he kisses him (Genesis 33:4)! What suddenly changed?
The night prior to the showdown, the Torah tells us of one of its most enigmatic narratives: that Jacob was “alone and struggled with a stranger all night long” (Genesis 32:25). If he was with the stranger then clearly he wasn’t alone!
Our sages explain that Jacob was indeed alone. The man he was struggling with was none other than himself as he faced his own identity crisis! All night long, Jacob was grappling with his inability to be true to himself as it dawned upon him that he had been trying to imitate Esau since his earliest youth —at birth, he was holding his heel (Genesis 25:26); Jacob purchased the birthright from Esau (Genesis 25:33); Jacob dressed in Esau’s clothes (Genesis 27:15), stole Esau’s blessings (Genesis 27:35), identified himself as Esau (Genesis 27:19) and even married Leah who was destined for Esau (Genesis 29:17 Rashi). He was given his very name “Jacob” since he was clutching onto Esau’s heel! (Genesis 27:36)”
Indeed, Jacob finally realized that he hadn’t been true to himself all along. And that’s why the Torah tells us that he emerged from this encounter “limping” (Genesis 32:26)—he wasn’t stable in his own shoes. With clarity and fortitude, Jacob decides then and there to no longer try to be Esau—from this point on he would be Jacob. As long as Jacob wasn’t being Jacob, he was hated by Esau. The moment the Jew has the courage to embrace his Jewish identity fearlessly, the enmity of the antisemite melts away and the curse is transformed into a kiss!
The Torah is not just a history book. It’s the guide to our lives. The story of our forefather Jacob is our personal story. Like Jacob, we have been persecuted for as long as we can remember. And like Jacob, the hatred will end not in the halls of the UN, Washington, or the New York Times but in the conviction of our hearts and the commitment of our souls to our own faith and heritage.
It’s time to stand up for ourselves and for our Torah. It’s time for us to stop apologizing for being the Chosen People and to start acting like we are the Chosen People. No game was ever won just by playing defense.
We have chosen to spell antisemitism with a small “a” and a capital “S” because we refuse to allow them to define us. From this day forward, we will define ourselves. We will show ourselves, our neighbors, and our children, that being Jewish is not a death sentence or a social pariah status. Being Jewish is about the love we radiate on Shabbos, the wisdom which the Torah provides us, and the serenity which we celebrate as the Chosen children of G-d!
Let’s get into the striker position and never, ever play goalie again!
Rabbi Dovid Vigler
Chabad of Palm Beach Gardens
6100 PGA Blvd, Palm Beach Gardens, FL 33418
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