We stand at the precipice of history—our survival depends on our choices today!
At a magnificent dinner in a private home, Chana and I had the good fortune of meeting the former Prime Minister of Israel, Naftali Bennett. He told us that the Jewish People have only ever experienced two periods of sovereignty in their homeland in our entire history. The first was in the year 869 BCE when King David and King Solomon ruled the entire land. Sadly, this kingdom lasted only eighty years, as the kingdom split in two through the weakness of Solomon’s foolish son Rechavam in the 81st year.
The second was right after the Chanukah story when the Hasmonean family, famously known as the Maccabees, drove the Greeks out and re-established Jewish rulership of the Holy Land in the year 140 BCE as documented by Josephus. Tragically, this dominion was also cut short in the 75th year of the kingdom, when the two warring princes—Aristobulus and Hyrcanus—naively invited the Roman general Pompey from afar to mediate between them. Their discord was rewarded with defeat when the eager Romans asserted power themselves, wresting the rulership from the hands of both of them!
We stand today in the third era of Jewish history in which Jews rule the Holy Land. The first two eras didn’t last more than 80 years. Neither was conquered from the outside. In both cases, our collapse was from within! Internal politics led to a civil war that ripped the nation apart. Israel is now in her 75th year and dangerously close to the lifespan of her former empires. Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. It is more critical now than ever before for us Jews to stand united. The damage of our dissonance and dissent is too great a price to pay. We must stand united, as our very future depends on it!
I found his moving words most inspirational, as we read about the special Mitzvah for each Jew to donate a half-shekel to the Temple, a mitzvah we observe to this day before the Festival of Purim. In his final address before his illness in 1992, the Rebbe explained that though we never do anything for G-d in half-measures, the half-shekel donation is really a full shekel as it represents our reliance on one another. Donating the coin reminds us that each of us is but half of a whole until we unite with each other when we garner G-d’s grace, blessing, and protection upon us.
Alexander The Great urged his subjects to “Remember that upon the conduct of each depends on the fate of all.” Rudyard Kipling wrote, “For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.”
Long before Winston S. Churchill declared that “When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you,” Jewish history has shown this to be true. Our choices are vital, our actions are primary. It’s easy to befriend fellow Jews who agree with you; G-d is testing us today to see if we are capable of maintaining relationships with those who disagree with us too.
When we first meet Moses in the Torah, only two events are recorded in the Torah about his early life. He first confronts an Egyptian attacking a Jew. The next day, he encounters a Jew attacking a fellow Jew. In the first instance, Moses took decisive action—striking the antisemite without regret. But when faced with the latter, Moses froze and grew frightened, ultimately fleeing for six decades! Though the threat of antisemitism is more painful, the dangers of Jewish infighting are far more lethal. At the dawn of our nation, Moses already understood that we would be able to overcome all the nasty nemeses that would rise against us. But the one threat that is most dangerous is the one that rises from within ourselves. Like a merciless cancer, it grows silently until it takes everything down.
Back in South Africa, where I was raised, an old Swahili proverb said that “Unity is strength, division is weakness.” The Ethiopians paint a similar picture, saying that “When spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion.”
We learn from failure, not from success. Let’s learn the lessons of our history as we boldly decide to love and accept our fellow Jews, especially when they disagree with us! And together, we will prove to the world and to G-d that we have evolved into a better mankind, capable of unconditional love and deliberate dignity, despite our differences.
May we celebrate the chord of our common camaraderie more than the pain of our prejudices!
It starts with us. Today. Right here. Right now.
Rabbi Dovid Vigler
Chabad of Palm Beach Gardens
6100 PGA Blvd, Palm Beach Gardens, FL 33418
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