We had a sudden glimpse, a small taste, of what it was like for our ancestors in the “old days” in Europe, with the inhabitants of the land actively plotting against us. In the United States we had never seen the hatred and deception exhibited by that smiling anti-Semite.
The societies in which most of us live today would have us believe they are our friends. They have gulled us into thinking they are just like us and we are just like them. And we have fallen in, just the way the Jews in Shushan fell in. Mordechai had warned us against attending the banquet, but we didn’t listen. And just as this brazen young man directed my wife and I down a road to nowhere, so our taivas, our powerful desires, are leading us on a spiritual road to nowhere.
Let us remember what happened in ancient Egypt. As noted above, four-fifths of the Children of Israel died during the Plague of Darkness because they didn’t want to leave Egypt – even though they were being tortured. They didn’t want to follow Moshe Rabbeinu on the road to Har Sinai. Can you imagine? The greatest man in history was waiting to take us to greatness, to freedom, to meet God, and we preferred to remain behind in the country that was breaking us. What was wrong with us?
What was wrong with us? Again, it was the same thing that is wrong with us now.
We slavishly run after a culture whose essence is emptiness, a road to nowhere. “For the gods of the peoples are worthless…but Hashem made heaven and earth” (Pesukai D’Zimra).
Yes, the wine is kosher and the food is kosher, but the desire to mingle with the surrounding culture, the desire to impress them, the worship of their sports heroes, their business heroes, their entertainment heroes, their music, their money, their cars, their homes, their vacations, their values, their technology – all this is treif, treif, treif.
The tragedy of tragedies of Galus is that we have forgotten who we are. We have forgotten that we are unlike other nations. We are the berachah for the entire world but we can only be that berachah when we live as we were meant to live. Our ancient enemy Bilam understood very well who we are when he said, “Hen am levadad yishkon… Behold, it is a nation that will dwell in solitude and not be reckoned among the nations” (Bamidbar 23:9).
Bilam hated us but he saw the unique greatness that is ours and ours alone. Megillas Esther – the quintessential Book of Exile, the book that was written at the precise moment when we were about to be cast among the other nations for so many millennia to come – identifies with precision exactly the weakness that we must at all costs avoid as we struggle to regain our lost heritage and return to our ancient greatness.
At this climactic moment in history, let us not forget that the enmity of the world is buried but not forgotten. Like the smiling Russian, the nations are waiting for their opportunity. The prophets, thousands of years ago, told us what would befall us at the end of days:
[An] entire army, horses and riders, all of them clothed in splendor, a vast assembly with buckler and shield, all of them wielding swords…many people will be with [Gog]…. In the end of years [they] will come to a land…gathered from many nations, upon the mountains of Israel that had lain desolate continuously, [to people] who had been brought out from the nations, all of them dwelling in security. You will attack, like a storm you will come; you will be like a cloud covering the earth, you and all your cohorts and the many nations with you…. Thus said the Lord…on that day…I will punish [Gog]…I will be exalted and I will be sanctified… [Yechezkel 38]
May Hashem bless us with understanding and courage to “distinguish between Israel and the nations.” May we soon penetrate the dark cloud covering the summit of Har Sinai. By cleaving to our Father in Heaven we will see the clouds suddenly disperse and, like the Jews in Shushan haBira, we too will have “light and gladness and joy and honor.”