Special Note: For the past two weeks my columns have focused on the sad state of contemporary family life – controversies between siblings, parents, and children. Unfortunately, however, this deplorable state of affairs is not limited to families. Our communities and our institutions are all ridden by “infighting.”
I have received countless e-mails and letters from readers bemoaning this deplorable reality that crosses all boundaries and gender lines, running the gamut from the observant to the secular, from the young to the elderly, and from male to female. I could probably keep publishing these letters for many weeks without exhausting the topic, but I think that we are all too familiar with the scene, so instead of belaboring the issue, I invite you, my dear readers, to explore along with me, some big questions:
Why are we so self- destructive? Why are we constantly at each other’s throats? How is it that we fail to realize that the greatest harm that we are inflicting is upon our own selves? As Rabbeinu Bachya taught, “There is no foe that can inflict evil on a man like his own evil deeds.”
And so, the question remains: “How can we, enlightened individuals, products of a sophisticated education, continue to live by the laws of the jungle? The question is all the more puzzling since ours is a generation that has so much to contend with – we can apply the passage, “Ein bayis she’ein sham mes – There no family that does not have to wrestle with some tribulation.”
Additionally, we are surrounded by enemies who are bent on destroying us; so how can it be that we do not unite and reach out to one another? We are all only too aware that when our people, our synagogues, our communities, are torn by machlokes, strife – then every individual in those communities, in those synagogues is also diminished. And when families are destroyed, then every individual member of that unit is left broken and maimed – so again I ask, why are we so self-destructive?
The question challenges all of us, for this scourge affects every Jew. And what’s more, our history testifies that we were cast into our long, dark exile precisely because of this sin of sinas chinam – baseless hatred between Jew and Jew. So why do we persist in this self-destruction? Why can’t we free ourselves from the chains of jealousy, pettiness, animosity and hatred?
If any generation should be sensitive to the urgency of curing ourselves of this disease, it is surely ours. We were witness to the most horrific evil ever to be visited upon mankind, and surely we must realize that that which took Hitler, yemach shemo, years to do, can, G-d forbid, be done today in a matter of minutes…. and that is exactly what Ahmadinejad’s agenda calls for.
So what must it take to awaken us? How much more suffering must we endure until we learn to live by the laws of loving-kindness? What must it take to teach us the two simple little words “I forgive?”
Many will try to rationalize and dismiss the subject by saying, “Rebbetzin, what are you getting all excited about? That’s the reality of today’s world…. It is what it is…. ” Others will dismiss the subject by blaming societal conditions, values and mores: greed, chutzpah, selfishness, jealousy, and hatred…all intrinsic to our culture.
Still others will give it a kosher Torah twist. We are living in the period identified as “Ikvesa D’moshicha” – the generation in which the footsteps of Moshiach can be heard, and that generation, we are told, will witness an escalation of that which is most base and loathsome in human nature.
I don’t buy any of this. To be sure, we do live in a world gone mad, a world in which people have forgotten basics, in which traditional moral values have been eclipsed, in which greed has replaced devotion, indebtedness – entitlement, chutzpah – respect, family cohesiveness – self adulation. Alas, these cultural aberrations do exist, and there is no point in denying them, but all this does not change our reality, which is rooted in timeless Torah values.
From the genesis of our history, we were always in conflict with the times. We marched to the tune of a different drummer and never considered that which was in vogue or politically correct. Our values were set in eternity – they came from Sinai. So no, the cultural rationalizations of the ages did not impact on us… those among us who remained Jews did so precisely because we had the spiritual stamina to say “No!”
As for those who would throw up their hands in futility and hide behind the reality of “Ikvesa d’Moshicha” – that we are living in the period of pre-Messianic times – that rationalization is equally unacceptable. If anything, the awareness that we are living in the period of “Erev Shabbos” should goad us into action so that Moshiach might arrive in peace and blessing rather than through suffering and fire.
Should we not want to do teshuvah and usher in the Messianic period with joy and gladness? But, you might ask, what practical steps can we take to bring about such change?
That, B’Ezrat Hashem, I will discuss in next week’s column.Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis