Why is the Whole World Against Us?
A Deeper Spiritual Insight, based on a Sicha of the Lubavitcher Rebbe (Breishis 5726)
On October 7th, 2023, Hamas terrorists, accompanied by willing and eager Gazan “civilians”, broke through the barrier separating Gaza from Israel and engaged in the bloodiest and most vicious pogrom against Jews that our people have experienced since the Holocaust.
Their first stop was an Israeli music festival – ironically a festival devoted to peace – where they murdered at least 260 attendees and kidnapped several more, torturing and raping as they went.
Next they hit up the kibbutzim – small, usually tranquil villages, whose citizens were known for being left-leaning liberals, many of them extremely active in promoting peaceful relations between Israelis and their Arab neighbors. One such resident, Aviv Kutz, organized an annual “kite festival for peace”, whereby he and other participants would fly kites across the border into Gaza with messages of peace. Their next kite flying ceremony was to take place that very day, October 7th, 2023. Instead, Aviv and his entire family were brutally murdered in their home by Hamas terrorists. Their bodies were found together in one bed, dead, with Aviv embracing them protectively, attempting to use his body to shield his wife and three children from the attackers.
The Kutz family was only one of many who were slaughtered by the hands of Hamas. These Hamas terrorists and their Palestinian civilian accomplices gleefully tortured their victims before killing them all the while documenting their atrocities on bodycams. The IDF released an audio recording of one of the terrorists calling his parents to brag: “I killed 10 Jews with my own hands!” he shouts into the phone.
The total death count from that day came to approximately 1,200 innocent lives, most of them defenseless civilians. Not all were Israelis; some were Thai laborers and others, European ravers. They were mostly Jews but some identified themselves as Muslim Arabs, vainly hoping that the terrorists would spare them.
And let’s not forget the hostages. At the time of this writing, there still remain 239 hostages being held by Hamas in Gaza, all kidnapped on that same day of October 7, 2023. These hostages include men and women of all ages. An elderly holocaust survivor, mothers, children and even babies. The youngest hostage is only 9 months old.
This massacre did not only affect the immediate victims and their families, but in fact every single Jew across the globe. As we are all one family, one body. When one part of us bleeds, the entirety of us hurts.
In the immediate aftermath of October 7th, the rest of the world, for the most part, mourned with us. President Joe Biden gave a heartfelt and sympathetic speech that warmed the hearts of even his most scathing Jewish critics.
At least this, many of us felt. Perhaps the one silver lining from this national trauma would be that the world would finally see clearly. See what is good and what is evil. See Hamas for the terrorists they are (which we’ve known all along) and understand once and for all that Israel and its advocates are not the bad guys.
Less than a week later, the apologetics came out. October 7th was an inevitable result of 75 years of Palestinian oppression under Israeli occupation, many commentators explained. What do you expect from a people whose land has been stolen from them?
Hamas sympathizers number in the millions, with pro-Hamas rallies attracting hundreds of thousands of attendees.
For some of the protestors, the antisemitism they display is chillingly direct. Making statements that are all too reminiscent of Nazi Germany – declaring their hatred of all Jews and their desire for our obliteration (G-d forbid) openly and literally.
As for others, it’s a bit more subtle – how many of these white American (or Canadian or European) kids know the chant “from the river to the sea Palestine will be free” is a genocidal chant calling for the complete eradication of the Jewish people from the Land of Israel (G-d forbid)? Ask them which river and which sea they are referring to and I guarantee that you’ll be met with a lot of blank stares.
I recently saw a video of one of these pro-Hamas rallies which took place near a college campus in Montreal and was amazed to see the readiness with which the non-Arab supporters eagerly repeated the chants the kafia-masked ringleader spouted from the megaphone. It was interesting to note how the chants became progressively extreme.
“Viva viva Palestina!” was the first one that I heard. Relatively tame one might say – what’s wrong with having a little nationalistic pride? Why Canadian born white kids feel compelled to declare such a strong sense of Palestinian nationalistic pride is a little strange, but you do you. Also, I thought nationalism was frowned upon nowadays by “enlightened liberals” hmmm…
“Viva viva Intifada!” was the next one. OK – this one should ring a bit more alarm bells to anyone who knows the definition of “intifada” (from the Oxford dictionary: “the Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, beginning in 1987.” but I guess, if we wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt, the more naive supporters at the rally might not realize what is insinuated in the word “uprising” and how October 7th served as a prime example, one which Hamas and other Palestinian Authority leaders have openly praised and declared that they would like to repeat again and again and again (see here as an example).
And then for the grand finale – “Allah Hu Akbar!” The leader screeched into the megaphone. And yes, the crowd, which included many non Muslim, non Arab students, answered back his call with the same words. How? I thought to myself, upon watching this video. How are these secular Canadian kids, many of whom no doubt have shunned religion in all other areas of their lives – how are they so willing to enthusiastically parrot the Islamist war cry?
So how many of these pro-Hamas supporters have any true sense of what they are saying? How many of them have good intentions and are just misinformed/misguided? How many of them don’t care to know and would rather gravitate to this cause as a good excuse to hate Jews?
We wonder, yet can never really know.
What we can focus on however, which is the topic of this essay, is what is our role as Jews with all of this? Should we care what the nations of the world think of us? Or perhaps not?
Upon first analysis, at least from the perspective of a religious Jew, one might think antisemitism, while bothersome and indeed at times can feel quite scary, is not really something to focus on too much. Why care what the nations of the world think of us when we know ultimately that it is G-d who is in control? Our sole purpose as Jews is to serve Him to the best of our ability by learning Torah and keeping our mitzvos.
Also, historically speaking, this is not our first rodeo. Antisemitism has been part and parcel of our history ever since there were Jews in the world to have a history about. And while our history has been incredibly tragic, time after time, we always emerge stronger and more robust than before.
Millenia since our nation was born, other nations have fallen, other nations have vanished and yet the Jews remain. As Mark Twain wrote in his famous essay “Concerning the Jews”:
He has made a marvelous fight in this world, in all the ages; and has done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself, and be excused for it. The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?
And yet, almost 1,000 years ago, Rashi, the foremost commentator on the Torah, taught us, in his very first commentary on the Torah, that we should actually care what the nations say. Not because G-d forbid we have anything to fear from them. But rather because it is our duty as G-d’s representatives here on earth to set the record straight – to be a light unto the nations and declare the truth of G-d’s purpose for our world and for all of humanity. For by proclaiming what is true, and by educating the entire world in this truth, we bring the world closer to its ultimate state of actualization, to be a dwelling place for G-d here in this world – a world in which “the entire world will be filled with the knowledge of G-d like water covers the sea.” (Yeshayahu 11:9)
This very purpose, explains Rashi, is actually the reason the Torah begins with the account of the creation of the world.
Given that the Torah is not meant to be a history book, but rather a book of lessons in how to live (as indicated in its name – Torah comes from the same root as the Hebrew word “Hora’ah” which means a lesson), it seems puzzling why it would start with the story of Creation or even why it is included at all.
For the most part, the details of our history have been passed down to us by way of tradition or via more archaeologically based historical records.
Many details of even our early history are missing from the Torah, and there are numerous examples that demonstrate that the events included are not all recorded in chronological order.
Every letter in the Torah is extremely precise and every detail of the Torah is there to serve as a lesson for Jews in how to live our lives in accordance with G-d’s Will.
This means that all the stories that are found in the Torah (and there are a lot of stories!) are not there to teach us history, but rather to serve as lessons for us in our own personal lives.
When we read the stories in the Torah, we should not read them as merely being occurrences that happened in the past but rather approach the text as a living, breathing, dynamic document whose teachings can give us guidance at every moment, at any time.
This is what the Alter Rebbe (the first and founding Rebbe of the Chabad Lubavitch movement) meant when he said that one should “live with the times” by studying the weekly Torah portion in a way that feels relevant and current, week after week.
Which brings us back to the story of creation. Why is it there? What possible lesson could it have for us Jews especially considering that the Jew did not become a nation until 2448 years later when we received the Torah?
For that matter, why are any of the pre-Matan Torah stories included? If the Torah is a book of lessons of Jews, shouldn’t it have started at the first “lesson”?
The first official commandment which we were given as Jews, which was the commandment to bless the new month only appears much later in the text. Why didn’t the Torah start there?
The fact that G-d began the Torah with the creation of the world is itself a lesson to us. The lesson, according to Rashi, is in how to answer the nations of the world when they accuse us of robbery for stealing their land.
The Arab-Israeli conflict and the world’s questioning of the Jews’ right to the Land of Israel has been a central part of most of our realities for our entire lives, which makes Rashi’s question and answer feel highly relevant to us. However reclaiming the Land of Israel as our own is a relatively recent phenomenon in our history, making Rashi’s almost millennium-old commentary pretty amazing in its foresight.
Rashi knew that there would come a time when the nations of the world would accuse us of stealing land and Rashi gave us the tools to answer them. That time is now.
Rashi’s answer, as well as his question, are the subjects of the Rebbe’s sicha which we’ll be exploring in more depth.
Through studying this sicha, we will learn why the world calls us “occupiers”. As we’ll see, there’s actually a seemingly legitimate reason for this claim, though to understand why it’s not ultimately justified requires a deeper understanding of the essential Jewish connection to the Land of Israel, which transcends all politics and is ultimately connected to the purpose of the entirety of Creation.
It is only when we as Jews proclaim this essential connection between us and the Holy Land that the other nations will listen. This is the message of the sicha and this is the answer to combating our enemies in our claim to ownership over the Land of Israel.
This first Rashi of the Torah and the deep ideas about our connection to the Land of Israel contained therein serves as a paradigm for what our approach to Torah learning in general should be.
Understanding the literal meaning of the Torah’s texts can serve as a gateway to accessing its deepest secrets, helping us make sense of the world around us and ultimately reveal the G-dliness inherent not only in the Land of Israel but also in the entire world for all to see.