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Shoftim 5766

Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9 )

by Kalman Packouz

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GOOD MORNING! Last week we explored the excuses for anti-Semitism; this week we'll look at the reason. Anti-Semitism is unique amongst the hatreds in the world in a combination of four aspects:

  1. Longevity - it's been around a long time.
  2. Universality - virtually everywhere in the world.
  3. Intensity - it's expressed in a particularly virulent manner.
  4. Confusion - there is surprisingly little agreement on why people hate the Jews.

Historians offer many "reasons" to explain why people are anti-Semitic: Jews are too powerful or too lazy; too separate or a threat to "racial purity" through assimilation; pacifistic or warmongers; capitalist exploiters or revolutionary communists; the "killers" of Jesus or the progenitors of Jesus; possessors of a Chosen People mentality or an inferiority complex. These reasons have one thing in common - they have nothing to do with our being Jewish. One might think that we are just the victims of bad luck - always possessing the needed quality to be hated wherever we are in the world at exactly that time in history.

Do you know who disagrees with the historians? Anne Frank. Writes Anne Frank on April 11,1944 in her diary: "Who knows - it might even be our religion from which the world and all peoples learn good, and for that reason and that reason alone do we now suffer. We can never become just Netherlanders, or just English, or representatives of any other country for that matter. We will always remain Jews."

Anne Frank made a point of stressing that Jews have something of special value to give to the world, and that is precisely what the world has resented, and that is why people have persecuted Jews. Anne Frank identifies anti-Semitism as a hatred of Jewishness, a loathing altogether different from the bigotry or racism that other peoples experience.

The Talmud (Tractate Shabbos 69) cites the source of anti-Semitism using a play on words: The Torah – the source of the Jewish system of laws, values and moral standards – was received at Mount Sinai. The Hebrew pronunciation of "Sinai" is almost identical to the Hebrew word for "hatred" – "sinah." "Why was the Torah given on a mountain called Sinai?" asks the Talmud. "Because the great sinah – the tremendous hatred aimed at the Jew – emanates from Sinai."

At Sinai Jews were told that there is one God, Who makes moral demands on all of humanity. Consequently, at Sinai the Jewish nation became the target for the hatred of those whose strongest drive is to liberate mankind from the shackles of conscience and morality.

At Sinai the Jewish nation was appointed to be "a light unto the nations." There are those who embrace Jews and the Jewish faith because of that light; but there are also those who want the world to be a place of spiritual darkness. They object to morality. Those would-be harbingers of darkness attack the Jews as the lightning rod for their hatred. This "call to Sinai" – the message entrusted to and borne by the Jews – ultimately transforms the world. Yet, it is this very message that draws forth the wrath of those who would give their last ounce of strength to resist it.

A great many people simply can't cope with the burden of being good. However, when they act in ways that are bad, they can't cope with the resultant feelings of guilt. Try as they may, they can never cut themselves loose from the standards of absolute morality dictated by the Torah. Stuck in this "Catch-22" situation, people turn with their mounting frustrations against the Jews, whom they perceive as personifying humanity's collective conscience.

When the Jews entered the theological arena, they showed people all the mistakes they had been making: Pagan gods are nonsense – there is only one God for all of mankind, Who is invisible, infinite and perfect. Infanticide and human sacrifice are unacceptable. Every human being is born with specific rights. No one can live as he pleases, for everyone must surrender his will to a Higher Authority.

On a certain conscious level, people recognize the Jews' message as truth. Those unwilling to embrace the truth have found that the only way to rid themselves of it is to destroy the messengers – for the message itself is too potent to be dismissed.

That is what is so irksome about the Jews, and that is why, for some people, nothing less than total destruction of the Jews will do. If Judaism were just another ideology, people could laugh it off and continue on their merry way. But deep in his soul, every human being recognizes the essential truths of morality – people can't just laugh it off.

For the last 2,000 years the Jewish people have gone through enormous amounts of persecution, hatred - ultimately leading to genocide. And through it all, the Jewish people always held onto being Jewish. And the reason? They understood that it was worth it. They understood what the meaning of being Jewish is, and they were willing to pay the price.

We have a Covenant with the Almighty. We have a mission to perfect the world through fulfilling the Torah and being a light unto the nations. What can be more meaningful and pleasureful than that? The Almighty has made many promises to us in the Torah - that we will be eternal, we will be few in number, cast to the four corners of the earth, ultimately to be brought back to the Land of Israel. However, for that Covenant to be fulfilled, the Jewish people must not only exist, but it must fulfill its Torah destiny.

The Torah clearly states (Leviticus 26:14-44, Deut. 28:15-69) the consequences for the Jewish people when we do not uphold our end of the Covenant. Throughout history the Almighty has been fulfilling His word and reminding us that He is serious about our keeping that Covenant. We promised to keep the Torah; the Almighty promised that He won't let us forget our promise. Non-Jews may hate us for their own twisted, contradictory reasons. However, for us the lesson is clear: Anti-semitism is nothing less than a wake up call for us to return to and increase our Torah observance. When we understand that, then we can understand the craziness and illogic of the world as they malign Israel's actions and label Israel as the aggressor and the bearer of blame. Will we learn our lesson? (See "Why the Jews?" seminar:

For more on "Anti-Semitism" go to!

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Torah Portion of the Week

Topics in this week's portion include: Judges and Justice, Sacred Trees and Pillars, Blemished Sacrifice, Penalties for Idolatry, The Supreme Court, The King, Levitical Priests, Priestly Portions, Special Service, Divination and Prophecy, Cities of Refuge, Murder, Preserving Boundaries, Conspiring Witnesses, Preparing for War, Taking Captives, Conducting a Siege and the Case of the Unsolved Murder.

This week we have the famous admonition:

"Righteousness, Righteousness shall you pursue, so that you will live and possess the Land that the Almighty your God, gives you." (Deut. 16:20)

* * *

Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

The Torah states:

"Judges and police you shall place for yourself." (Deuteronomy 16:18)

Besides being a command for creating a righteous society, what personal lesson can we draw from this verse?

Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Parshicho commented: Make for YOURSELF judges and police - before you go and make judgments about other people, judge yourself first. As the Sages taught in the Talmud (Bava Basra 60b), "First correct yourself and only then correct others."

It is very easy to find fault with others. However, this can easily lead to becoming arrogant and retaining all of your faults. While we have an obligation to help others grow, keep reviewing your own behavior to see what you can improve. The purpose of police is to make certain that the laws are enforced. Similarly, when you find a fault in yourself, take action to fix it!

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You have to know how to
accept rejection and reject acceptance.
-- Ray Bradbury

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