In my last column I wrote of the anguish and sorrow that fills the hearts of our brethren in Israel nowadays, and I wrote of the all-too-real curses that are enumerated in Parashat Ki Tavo. There is one curse however, that at first glance, may be difficult to understand, but if you take a moment to think about it, you will realize how poignantly it speaks to us: “And it shall be, if you will not hearken to the voice of the L-rd your G-d to observe and perform all His commandments and all His decrees that I command you today, then all His curses will come upon you and overtake you” (Deuteronomy 28:58).
The word “overtake” is puzzling, but upon closer scrutiny, we have to conclude how prophetic these words have proven to be. We have a long history of trying to second guess G-d’s word. There are always those who rationalize that the tragedies that befall us are totally unrelated to our abandonment of Torah and mitzvos. They reason that these curses are just so much superstition, and if we would just do “such and such”, then all our problems would be resolved. But throughout our long and torturous history, no matter how clever a formula was concocted, no matter how confident we were that this time, we would find a way to neutralize the irrational hatred that surrounds us, the curses always overtook us. Just consider some of the events of the last century and you will see for yourself the sad reality of this prophecy.
A Jew by the name of Karl Marx convinced his followers that hatred in the world stemmed from jealousy between the haves and the have-nots, and that it was these economic disparities that rendered the Jews scapegoats. And so, he founded communism, a system that would guarantee the perfect distribution of wealth, a system in which everyone would have an equal share. Many Jews sacrificed and died for this cause. They truly believed that communism would usher in a new era of fraternity and brotherhood. Who would have believed that this very same communism would not only fail, but would give birth to the most vile and brutal persecution of the Jewish people. “Alas, the curses shall overtake you…”
Theodore Hertzl, a secular Jew from Austro-Hungary, the founder of political Zionism, was convinced that the cause for anti-Semitism was the lack of a Jewish homeland. He was so assimilated that he even expressed willingness to accept Uganda as a substitute, but since Uganda was not to be had, he settled on Palestine. Who would have believed that 51 years after the founding of the Jewish homeland, that homeland would become the butt of hatred. “We have nothing against Jews, it is the Israelis and Zionists that we despise,” is the politically correct mantra of the new anti-Semites.” “And the curses shall overtake you…”
The Reform movement in Germany was founded on the belief that anti-Semitism was provoked by the special Jewish way of life that distinguishes Jews from Gentiles. If only Jews would shed their traditions, their mannerisms, their distinct garb, their myriad archaic commandments and enter the enlightened world – if only they would be like all other people, anti-Semitism would cease to exist. Jews gave up their faith, their Torah, and proudly swore their allegiance to “Fattersland uber alles” – “Germany, the Fatherland - above all”. Who would have believed that it would be from that very same enlightened, civilized Germany that the most satanic evil ever to be visited upon our people would emerge. “And the curses shall overtake you.”
The events that I described are not from our distant past - rather, they are of today, and we are all familiar with them, but there are still those among us who believe that they can relinquish Torah and mitzvos without consequences – that the curses that we encounter in life are totally unrelated to our lack of observance and our abandonment of the Covenant. They truly believe that all our problems would be resolved if we would just adopt “yet another formula”.
While the embers of the flames of Auschwitz were still glowing, the advocates of this philosophy found yet another prescription to once and for all eradicate the scourge of anti-Semitism. They scurried to Rome and prostrated themselves before the Pope to inaugurate the dawn of a new era - “Dialogue.” The rationale behind this was quite logical. The silence of the Church and its support of the Nazis in Catholic Europe was due to a lack of communication. But now, bridges of understanding would be built. “Dialogue” would be the new antidote for the deadly virus of anti-Semitism. But then came 1967 – the Six Day War, and once again, the balloon burst. As Israel was threatened by annihilation, her leaders appealed to the world community and to the Church, but the nations remained silent as did Rome. The proponents of dialogue tried to call in their cards, but their investment had failed. Rome not only remained indifferent to the plight of the fledgling Jewish state, but lent its sympathy and support to those who were bent upon her destruction.
Recently, the age-old blood libels have re-surfaced in contemporary garb. A prince of the Church, Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Meridiaga, who is the Archbishop of Honduras and who, according to Boston Globe reporter James Carrol, is one of a small number of likely candidates to succeed Pope John Paul II, reportedly stated that the accusations of sexual abuse in the Church are a Jewish fabrication!
You might wonder how he arrived at such a brilliant conclusion, but then again, how did his predecessors throughout the centuries conclude that Jews slaughtered Christians children and used their blood to make wine and matzoh for Passover? Nothing changes – just the names and the places. Still, you may insist that we are living in the 21st century. People cannot just make outlandish irrational accusations built upon a pack of lies. But obviously, they can, and there are myriad people out there willing to embrace them and declare them to be truth. The Archbishop propounds that the Jews were seeking revenge on the Church for its pro-Palestinian/anti Israel stance and most importantly, also wanted to divert attention from the atrocities that they are perpetrating against the Palestinians, so they fabricated this story, and proof of its Jewish origin is that The Boston Globe, owned by the Jewish Sulzberger New York Times family, was the first to break the story. Therefore, it stands to reason that this is a Jewish conspiracy.
Now, it’s one thing for the Cardinal to make such preposterous and virulent accusations, but it is something else again for Rome to remain silent and not call the Cardinal to task. Once again, despite years of dialogue, despite good-will gestures and kow-towing to Rome, the curses have overtaken us.
Let us now consider the tragedies that are befalling us in Eretz Yisrael – the constant barrage of terrorist attacks that result in almost daily carnage. Why do the Arabs hate us so? Why are they bent upon killing us? Why are they obsessed with shedding Jewish blood? Why do they wish to see us dead? Why do they want to eradicate the Jewish State? Once again, our secularists, who deny G-d’s Hand in our history have convinced themselves and others that there are valid reasons for all this hatred, reasons that can be overcome: The Arabs suffer from poverty, they live under abysmal conditions, they lack educational and job opportunities, the Palestinians have become refugees, and they need their own state. Who, if not we, should empathize with that? Let’s give them what they need, let’s give them the land, let’s give them financial aid, let’s give them the arms to create their own police force.
It was this thinking that prompted Israeli leadership to legitimize Arafat and put white gloves on his bloody hands. It was with this thinking that Israel convinced Washington to no longer regard Arafat as persona non-grata, but to accord him all the honor of a diplomat. It was this Israeli thinking that enabled Arafat to win the Nobel Peace prize, and it was this thinking that prompted Israel to sign the Oslo Accords. Oslo would herald a new dawn in Jewish-Arab relations. Israel and her neighbors would enjoy open borders and together build a model state.
Israel gave up chunks of her G-d given land, supplied Arafat and his cohorts with funds and weapons, and taught them how to prepare for the establishment of their own state.
Who would have believed that that Oslo pact would open the doors to the most brutal and bloody period in the history of the young State, that the arms that Israel gave would be turned against her own sons and daughters? And today, 10 years down the road, we are further from peace than ever before. Not only are our borders not open, but now we have to build “fences” to protect ourselves from the killers who live next door. What will it take to awaken those who are still asleep, those who after thousands of years of history still cling to the illusion that we Jews can be like all other nations - that the laws that apply to them can apply to us as well?
What will it take to make our assimilated brethren understand that our destiny, our very breath is ordained by Hashem, that we are Mamlechet Kohanim, a priestly kingdom, Goy Kadosh, a holy nation, destined to be a light unto the world, and because of that, there is only one formula, one road map for us and that’s the road map that was charted at Sinai. All else is doomed to fail, for otherwise, “the curses will overtake us.”
May Hashem grant that this year of 5764 will usher in a new era of teshuva ? return to G-d and His Torah, for that is our only power, our only means of survival, our only antidote to the curses. “If only My people would heed Me, if Israel would walk in My ways, in an instant I would subdue their foes and against their tormentors turn My hand” (Psalm 81).
May I take this opportunity to wish all our readers and K’lal Yisrael a gemar chasima tova.