Editor’s Note: Rebbetzin Jungreis, a”h, is no longer with us in a physical sense, but her message is eternal and The Jewish Press will continue to present the columns that for more than half a century have inspired countless readers around the world.
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We live in extremely difficult times. The very continuity of the Jewish people is threatened, both from within and without.
From within: Assimilation, Jewish illiteracy, alienation, and intermarriage are prevalent throughout the world – even, to a troubling extent, in Israel. Speaking Hebrew is not an indication of being knowledgeable of Torah, and living in the land of G-d does not guarantee belief in Him. It is all very painful, but alas, that’s the sad reality.
From without: What we are witnessing today is reminiscent of pre-Holocaust Europe. Anti-Semitism is escalating everywhere, including in the United States. Of course, in the twenty-first century it is politically incorrect to exhibit hatred toward Jews, but Jew haters will always find a palatable way to package their sinister intent. And so today’s anti-Semites demonize Israel and label it an apartheid state, making it a pariah among the nations. And many of our own assimilated Jews have come to believe the vicious slanders against Israel, nodding their heads in agreement whenever they hear a pundit or a professor or a paid propagandist castigating Israel.
In fact, many Jews are in the forefront of Israel’s defamers. Tragically, they are found not only in the Diaspora but in Israel as well, particularly in the nation’s news media, its colleges, and its courts.
Still worse, our people are sleeping just as they were prior to the Holocaust. Then too, they refused to hear; then too, they refused to see; then too, they denied the catastrophic reality. I know – I was there.
To be sure, there is one huge difference between yesterday and today. Yesterday, Hitler had to organize cattle cars to transport us to our deaths; yesterday he had to build concentration and slave labor camps; yesterday he had to build gas chambers and crematoria. Today’s Jew haters can, G-d forbid, kill large numbers of Jews in one big terrorist attack and in the not too distant future they’ll be able to push a button and…
But our people sleep on, oblivious to the gathering storm.
How does one awaken a people? How do we navigate the difficult road of delivering the blunt and often unpleasant truth without offending our clueless brethren, without sounding harsh and judgmental?
During more than half a century of public speaking, I have, Baruch Hashem, never encountered an audience that took umbrage at my words of Torah. Hashem’s children are an amazing people – the pintele Yid in their hearts is forever flickering. One need only ignite it and it becomes a brilliant flame. The formula is quite simple: “Words that emanate from the heart must enter another heart.”
It’s as easy as that, and I’ve never seen it fail. But how does one give meaningful consolation to those who are hurting? How does one offer hope to a country like Israel that from the moment of its birth has never had a day of peace and that has been constantly called upon to make the most painful sacrifices?
An insightful Rebbe once said, “Zehr fiel mohl es iz shver tsu redden, obehr es iz noch shverer tsu schveigen” – “Very often it is difficult to speak, but it is even more difficult to remain silent.” Such is our predicament today.
When Aaron the high priest saw his two magnificent sons consumed in flames in the midst of the celebration of the dedication of the Tabernacle, it is written that he “remained silent.” But Aaron’s silence was more powerful than words. His silence transcends the centuries and speaks to our hearts in every generation.
We, however, are not on the level of Aaron. Our silence is easily lost in the shrill sounds of the complex, noisy world around us. So we must cry out with all our strength. We must rouse our people from their slumber and we must challenge ourselves and one another to remember our Divine calling sealed at Sinai.
We are engulfed in a terrible crisis both internally and externally, but let us not lose heart.
The word “crisis” in modern Hebrew is mashbir; in the Torah it means a birthing stool. So it is that on Tisha B’Av, when we mourn for Jerusalem, we chant the dirge “Weep for Zion and her cities like a woman in labor,” for a woman in labor knows that her pain, her suffering is not for naught – that very soon she will behold new life that will make everything worthwhile.
We, the Jewish people, are never to lose sight of that, and we must share this vision with all of our brethren. It is in our hands to facilitate an easy labor, to expedite the birth. We need only return to our Heavenly Father and recommit to Torah and mitzvos.
But in order to do that, we must first and foremost embrace our fellow Jews with love. For it is only through love that we can remind one another of that sacred moment at Sinai when G-d spoke to us and charged us with our mission.