Within our tradition, anti-Semitism is known as “sinas Yisrael” – hatred of Israel. The spiritual causes of sinas Yisrael can be found in the early stage of our history. Before we discuss the cure for sinas Yisrael, we need to briefly review two spiritual causes for this hatred which we discussed in Letters 124 and 128 of this series. (Copies of these letters are available upon request.)
When we were in Egypt, we discovered that the more we tried to be like the Egyptians, the more they despised and hated us. As the Midrash Tanchuma explains, Divine Providence caused this reaction (Shmos 5). The Educating One Who guides human history and Who gave us a universal mission would not allow us to abandon our mission by assimilating among the Egyptians; thus, King David wrote:
“Then Israel came to Egypt and Jacob sojourned in the land of Ham... “He turned their hearts to hate His nation, to plot against His servants” (Psalm 105:23,25).
Paradoxically, our acceptance of the Torah at Mount Sinai – which gave us our unique identity and mission – also evoked sinas Yisrael, as the revolutionary message of the Torah posed a threat to the corrupt world order. The Talmud therefore states that the term “Sinai” alludes to the “sinah” – hatred – that other nations began to have towards us when we accepted the Torah at Mount Sinai (Shabbos 89a).
This paradox raises the following question: If our attempts to assimilate can evoke sinas Yisrael, and if our willingness to be unique can evoke sinas Yisrael, then how are we to find the “cure” for this hatred? The beginning of the answer can be found in the following message which Moshe Rebbeinu – Moses, our Teacher – conveyed to us regarding our responsibility to develop a model society which could inspire other peoples:
“See! I have taught you statutes and social laws, as Hashem, my God, has commanded me, to do so in the midst of the Land to which you come, to possess it. You shall safeguard and fulfill them, for it is your wisdom and understanding in the eyes of the peoples, who shall hear all these statutes and who shall say, ‘Surely a wise and understanding people is this great nation!’ ” (Deuteronomy 4:5,6)
In his commentary on the above passage, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch writes:
Whatever arts and sciences may characterize the cultural heritage of other nations, yours - the Jewish art and science - is the knowledge and skills needed to build up all of your personal and national life upon two foundations: your awareness of God and your awareness of your duties to other human beings. This is the art and science of knowing the Divine Law and translating it into reality, the art and science of truth and a harmonious life. This knowledge and art of living will be regarded by the other nations as your distinguishing feature.
When we accepted the Torah, our willingness to serve as the messengers of the Divine Teaching provoked the hatred of other peoples; however, when we become a social model of the Divine Teaching – a model of “wisdom and understanding” – then their hatred will be transformed into admiration and respect. They will then say, “Surely a wise and understanding people is this great nation.”
This transformation serves as a reminder that human beings are created in the Divine image with the ability to appreciate and emulate the Divine ways. Although most human beings strayed from Hashem, the Compassionate One, their inner potential for spiritual greatness will be aroused through the spiritual example of Israel.
In this spirit, our Prophets stress the following theme: In order to inspire other peoples to follow the light-giving ways of Hashem, we ourselves have to follow these ways. For example, after the Prophet Isaiah conveyed the vision of the messianic age, when the peoples of the earth will say, “Come, let us go up to the Mountain of Hashem, to the Temple of the God of Jacob, and He will teach us of His ways and we will walk in His paths” (Isaiah 2:3), Isaiah turned to our people and proclaimed:
“O House of Jacob: Come, let us walk by the light of Hashem!” (ibid 2:4)
These words convey a sober message to our people: We ourselves first have to walk on the light-giving path before we can inspire others to follow this path. In this way, we will merit to experience the fulfillment of the following Divine promise:
“And nations shall go to your light” (Isaiah 60:3)
The above teachings remind us that we, the People of the Torah, have a spiritual raison d’etre, thus, the ultimate cure for sinas Yisrael is a spiritual one. As the Prophets remind us again and again, our spiritual nation will not achieve lasting peace and friendship with other nations if we neglect to fulfill our sacred mission. We therefore have much inner spiritual work to do, as the aggressive masculine energy of other nations is being used against us in various ways – through violence, the revival of anti-Semitic libels, economic boycotts, international condemnations, calls for our physical destruction, and renewed efforts to “convert” us to Christianity. For the sake of justice, we should speak out against the current attempts to harm us, but we should realize that such protests are not the ultimate answer. For the sake of peace, we should strive to have good relations with people of different faiths and cultures, but we should realize that these efforts are not the ultimate answer. In general, we need to realize that before we can have an honest and good relationship with people of different faiths and cultures, we need to be deeply rooted in our own spiritual faith and culture. All the interfaith dialogues in the world will not cause the peoples of the world to understand and respect us, if we do not understand and respect ourselves.
When we are ready to fulfill our spiritual and universal destiny, the aggressive masculine energy among the nations that is currently being directed against us will be transformed into a holy and loving energy which will cause the nations to bond with us. We will then merit the fulfillment of the following Divine promise:
“Thus said Hashem, God of the hosts of creation: In those days, it will happen that ten men, of all the languages of the nations, will take hold, they will take hold of the corner of the garment of a Jewish man, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you’ ” (Zechariah 8:23).
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen