In my previous column I continued to focus on the dusty windows that obscure our Jewish vision. I noted the inexplicable hatred and persecution that has plagued us throughout the centuries.
In every generation there are those among us who try to convince us it is our distinct Jewish appearance, customs and observances that have alienated us from our non-Jewish neighbors.
But how can these people explain the fact that Muslims, Hindus, monks, nuns, and priests who wear special garb do so generally undisturbed, even commanding respect?
Take a look at the yarmulkes worn by the pope and the cardinals of the Catholic Church. And the pope has a special hat, a mitre, which is quite similar to what was worn by the high priest of our holy Temple.
So how is it that we who introduced religious head coverings to the world should be treated with such disdain and brutality?
In our obsession to blend in with the nations we keep shedding more and more of our Jewishness but, paradoxically, the more we try the more we try to be like others, the more we are resented.
In vain did Ezekiel the prophet call out in days of yore that no matter how much we scheme in your hearts to be like all the other nations, we will never be considered the same as them. And he warned us of the terrible consequences of renouncing our heritage, our covenant.
Sadly, despite the admonishments not only of Ezekiel but of all our prophets, we have yet to learn our lesson. We continue to assimilate with fury – an assimilation compounded by our Jewish illiteracy. The great majority of our people have no knowledge of the Torah, the Prophets, or the Talmud. If you were to ask them just for the titles of our sacred books, not even a description of the contents, they would stare at you blankly.
Hashem, who knows the past, present and future, created in His infinite mercy windows for us. Windows through which we would be able to see what our minds reject and our eyes cannot envision. We have forgotten the message, yet it is easily accessible if we’d only look through the windows.
These windows prominently showcase the message of all our Yom Tovim but we refuse to look. In our pursuit of money, assimilation and good times we allow dust to settle on our windows until we can no longer see through them.
I started to write this series of columns between the weeks of Purim and Pesach. Even small children are aware of the magical story of Purim. Queen Esther was prepared to sacrifice her life to save her people from Haman. They know Mordechai was determined to awaken every Jew. But what really happened in that story?
Years before Haman’s ascent, King Achashveirosh called for a great celebration in honor of his marriage to the evil Vashti. All citizens of the empire were invited, including the Jews. Mordechai warned his brethren not to attend. The food would not be Jewish food. The atmosphere would be a desecration of G-d’s Name.
The people chose to ignore Mordechai’s warning. They had their own rationalizations to justify their participation. “It is not good for us to stay away…to refuse an invitation from the king. Persia is our host country. We have a good life over here. We have good relationships with the Persians.”
So they went and took part in a banquet that quickly became a nightmare of unspeakable drunkenness and debauchery.
Nine years down the line Haman was elevated to his position as second to the king. He convinced the king to annihilate all the Jews, pointing out that the Jews had forsaken their covenant. “It’s time to attack! When they abandon their G-d they become putty in our hands.”
We are a lone lamb among 70 ferocious wolves. Our protection comes only from our Shepherd. He protects us and guards us. But when we choose to ignore Him and think we are perfectly capable of living our lives without Him, the wolves are unleashed and they mercilessly pounce upon us and devour us.
Did the Jews connect the dots? Did they understand that their enthusiastic participation in the banquet was the direct cause of Haman’s ascent and his plot to kill every Jew? Alas, no one connected those dots and when the decree came that all Jews were to be annihilated, they blamed Haman’s insanity, not their own behavior.
Mordechai sent a message to Queen Esther that it was time to act. She in turn instructed him to “gather all the Jews, let them unit in prayer, fasting and teshuvah.”
Esther invited the king and Haman to dinner in her palace. Why did Esther do that? I would offer the following explanation for her action:
In order to really pray from your heart, you have to feel there’s no one else who can help you but G-d. You have to cry out to Him with your entire being and shed tears from your soul. But if the Jewish people think their salvation can come from man they will arrogantly proclaim, “We can take care of this. We are in charge. Besides, we have Esther in the palace. She will never allow anything to happen to us.”
If, however, they come to believe that Esther had aligned herself with Haman, inviting him for dinner at the palace, they will have no recourse but to turn to G-d.
Tragically, the tendency to rely on human beings rather than G-d has been our curse throughout the centuries. Today we tell ourselves, “We are well connected with the White House. I know this cabinet member. I know that senator. I helped to elect him. I make substantial donations. Nothing to worry about! America will always stand by Israel…”
So we continue to celebrate and drink until we don’t know the difference between Haman and Mordechai. We don’t want to recognize that the Mordechais are the earthly shepherds of Israel and are here to lead us to the Ultimate Shepherd, Hashem.
And we refuse to recognize that the Hamans of history are not just random madmen. We never stop to ask why and how, nor do we examine our hearts for the answer. We never ask what it means to be a Jew. But the answers are available to all of us. We read in Tehillim (Psalms), “If only My people would heed Me. If Israel would walk in My ways, in an instant I would subdue their foes and turn My hand against their tormentors….”
It’s easier for us to continue to blame blind fate and the evil of the Hamans of the world. It’s never us. We are never responsible. It’s never you. It’s never me. It’s always those anti-Semites.
If we would remove the dust from our windows and look out, we would have a clearer vision of our today and our tomorrows. The names and places may have changed but in the end it’s all the same. The dust on the windows allows us to delude ourselves into feeling we are safe, that all is well, that it’s a different world today.
It’s so easy to point the finger of blame at others, to believe the tragedies of Jewish history are caused by individuals who are evil or mad and not because we have turned away from our covenant with G-d due to our intense desire to become like all the nations.
Conversely, it’s so hard to storm the Heavenly Gates with our prayers and our love and observance of Torah. But the clouds are once again gathering throughout the world. We must dust off our windows before it’s too late.
Or will we wait until lightning strikes?
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