Our spiritual work during these difficult times

By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried

Dear Rabbi Fried,

We feel surrounded by a sea of hatred in this country and the world and we don’t see any escape from it or anything changing anytime soon. On the contrary, if anything it seems like it’s getting worse by the moment. For us, the straw that just broke the camel’s back was such a hateful, negative reaction in the press over the rescue of the four hostages, like we should have just left them there with Hamas and we are evil for redeeming them. What are we to do in a time like this?

Sheila and Martin

Dear Sheila and Martin,

I think your sentiments are felt by us all. The nuclear explosion of vitriolic hatred and open antisemitism unleashed by the barbaric Hamas massacre has left us all shell-shocked, our jaws locked open in disbelief for what we are witnessing and never thought we would see repeated in our lifetime. Rather than empathizing with us, the more they do to us the more the world hates us and nothing we do, even to rescue our own hostages, can be good.

What we are witnessing is plainly and clearly a desire, by many, to have Israel, and frankly all of us, wiped off the face of the earth. There’s no place on this planet that the antisemites would be comfortable with us taking up residence.

Our situation is prophetically encapsulated by King David in Psalm 83 (one of the commonly recited chapters during this time in synagogues around the world). The Psalmist describes how all the peoples of the world (i.e. the United Nations) band together and raise their banners in a fight against the Almighty and His people, the Jews. They proclaim, “the name of Israel shall no longer be mentioned” (from the river to the sea…).

Some of our contemporary Torah sages have offered the following guidance. When we witness an onslaught on our very existence as a nation, it’s perhaps a wake-up call that we need to do more to fulfill our mission as a separate and distinct nation. This is perhaps counterintuitive, but profound nonetheless.

The Torah says, “You shall be holy for Me, for I, Hashem, am holy and I have separated you from the nations to be Mine” (Leviticus 20:26). Rashi, the classical commentator, comments, “If you are separated from the others then you are Mine; and if not, you belong to Nevuchadnetzar and his friends.” Meaning, if you maintain your separateness from the nations, you are under My protective umbrella. If, however, you don’t ensure that separateness, you belong to Nevuchadnetzar, who triggered the first exile with all its difficulties, and his friends, the ensuing three additional exiles, the fourth of which we currently reside in.

This does not just connote a physical separation; it goes much deeper. It implies we are living a separate type of existence. The separation referred to at the end of the verse follows the beginning of the verse, “You shall be holy, for I, Hashem, am holy.” Wherever we might be living, we are considered separate if we are living a life of holiness, thereby transcending our surroundings and connected to G-d. When we are truly living a life of holiness, as described by our Torah, we will not be scorned by the nations of the world. On the contrary, they will then respect us for our differences because we will be living up to our commitment to be a “light unto the nations.”

What that might mean specifically for our times may have many meanings; perhaps we’ll outline some thoughts about that in next week’s column. In the meantime, let’s all give some thought to what we might do to reinforce our separateness through holiness and connection to the mission of Klal Yisrael. May that contribute to mitigating the hatred unleashed against us.

Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried is dean of DATA-Dallas Area Torah Association.

Leave a Reply