Pesach conjures up ideals of freedom. Freedom from slavery, freedom to serve Hashem the way we want without oppression. Indeed, our sages tell us that the prime purpose of being freed from the horrible bondage of Egypt was so that we would “be able to serve Hashem on that mountain [Mt. Sinai, where the Torah was given].”
When one looks at the present condition of the Jewish nation, however, it appears increasingly difficult to feel encouraged. Not only are we still in galus, not only have we not merited the ultimate freedom that will come with the arrival of Mashiach, but it seems that in many parts of the world our freedom to serve Hashem is increasingly being challenged.
Even in places where we have felt relatively at home we are now seeing troubling signs of resurgent anti-Semitism. What one might call genteel anti-Semitism is perhaps even more troubling because it is couched in such terms as “human rights,” “animal rights,” “rights of the child” and similar “social justice” slogans.
Take New York, the city with the highest concentration of Jews outside of Eretz Yisrael. For many years Jews have flourished in New York, and may it be Hashem’s will that they continue to flourish. Nevertheless, a frum Jew there could not be blamed for feeling that his deeply held values are being targeted.
For starters, the New York City Health Department’s legislation regarding a religious issue such as bris milah, with obligations imposed on mohelim, has worried many, not only because of the law itself but also for the precedent it sets –government encroachment into what until now had been treated as a purely religious issue.
Then there was the recent case where the New York City Human Rights Commission sued businesses establishments owned by religious Jews because of signs on the doors asking customers not to dress immodestly. Many observers were scratching their heads wondering why upscale Manhattan restaurants routinely have rules regarding dress and decorum while Orthodox businesses now faced the wrath of the Human Rights Commission for nearly identical conduct.
America has been such a safe haven for Jews for many reasons, but one prime reason was that traditional moral values always characterized the country. And the American motto of “live and let live” provided a modicum of protection while allowing people to live their lives in consonance with their conscience.
Today, if you oppose the “progressive” agenda and take issue with the immorality that is so prevalent, you will be labeled a racist, anti-progress, anti-women, etc. These labels can have very serious social and legal consequences.
Despite all this, America remains one of the better places for Jews. Jews in France are emigrating in droves due to rampant and violent anti-Semitism on the part of Muslim extremists there. The authorities are either unable or unwilling to stop it. Although the situation in England is not nearly as bad as it is in France, British Jews are very apprehensive about the growth of Muslim extremism and what it will mean for the continuing viability of England’s Jewish community.
In Belgium, the government has issued an edict that will force all schools, even religious schools, to teach a government-mandated curriculum that counters our deeply held religious values.
Even in Eretz Yisrael, our beloved homeland, it seems that many segments of the population feel despised, barely tolerated for their religious lifestyle and under constant assault by the courts and the government.
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Perhaps worse than all the above is the acute lack of unity among Jews. There is strife everywhere; there is so much sinas chinam, lashon hara, and plain old ill will between different communities.
About the Author: Rav Dovid Hofstedter is the author of the Dorash Dovid sefarim on the Torah and Moadim and the founder and nasi of Dirshu, a worldwide Torah movement whose raison d’être is accountability in Torah learning among all segments of Klal Yisrael, impacting more than 100,000 participants since its inception 18 years ago.
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