Tragic Events and a Timely Response
There must be something upon which all must agree.
For all the unforeseen and ever widening reach of technology, together with the unprecedented exponential progress in so many areas of life, the world is in a state of deep unrest and agitation. And for the Jewish people it’s the same but naturally even more so. Yes, the crucial and most concerning factor is the chronic and ever rising anti-semitism and through recent generations, spiced with racial hatred and anti-Zionism but clearly with a very fine veil . The world has a problem. A big problem. But the challenge for the Jewish people is equally formidable and maybe more so. For all the statistician’s extrapolation accompanied with endless reports of gloom from think-tanks, who together with the men of letters compete for superlatives of genuine righteous indignation, very few have truly homed or honed in on the innate cause and deeper malaise together with its resolution . More than incidentally, it would be wise to recognise that the ultimate resolution lies in the fulfilment of the Prophetic Messianic era. So as Agnes Allen, Children’s Books author, would say ”When all else fails, read the instructions !“Maybe , just maybe , we should seek the wisdom of the ancients. Yes, the Talmud . The very same copies of the Talmud which in 1242 AD were collected from all over France in 24 wagons and burned by the very same anti-semites of today in the courtyard of the Notre Dame Church in Paris.
Commenting on the “Scroll of Esther”, part of Biblical Canon, the Talmud offers an enigmatic parable interpreting the dramatic and fateful meeting between the King of the Persian Empire and his Chief Minister and arch anti-semite Haman.
The Chief Minister approaches the King , slandering the Jews in all 127 provinces of Ancient Persia and Media and offering an enormous sum to “ Buy the Jews and slaughter them”! “ Keep your money and do whatever you like with them!” is the King’s eager reply . And so onto the first planned Holocaust in Jewish history. The parable ? Two neighbouring land owners shared a problem. One had a massive pit whilst the other, a huge hill. Said the pit owner to his neighbour,” Please sell me
your hill”. Said the hill owner to his neighbour, “ Sell it? The hill is in my way.Its yours for nothing! “ In a seminal discourse on Purim 1965, the Lubavitcher Rebbe offered a radical interpretation with an insight which was to bend and stretch conventional wisdom. Indeed, he explained ,both the King and Haman are two sides of the same coin with only slight variation. Haman’s objection carried a profoundly psychological dimension. “ A pit, a void, and a gnawing emptiness “. Leading psychiatrists over the past hundred years would have a field day with Haman on the couch! The King however was bluntly prosaic to the anti semitic agitation.” They’re everywhere . Get them out of my way!”
The Rebbe’ s interpretation went to the very heart of the human psyche. He traced the source of hate back to what is universally recognised as envy ,and envy is forever latent in humankind .
This particular envy was ignited through the historic Sinai experience which highlighted the collective Jewish submissive response in accepting the Torah .For historic and circumstantial reasons Gentiles were not the recipients of the Torah. The elevated level of Jewish society was on all occasions pronounced. There was serious ground for envy.
The Rebbe however went even further by revealing that along with this dimension of envy with it’s concomitant hate, all humans are indigenously endowed with yet an even deeper emotional motivation named” Emulation “ . Namely the innate desire to emulate the very highest level of moral human purpose attainable , thereby obviating the need to hate.
All humans at all times during their long history have been and are acutely conscious of being created in the Divine image. All Humanity is equally aware of being mandated with the Divine obligation for observing the seven basic laws of humanity. This is equally recognised as a supreme privilege.
In reaching for one’s own inner peace and wellbeing the Rebbe was urging the adoption of “Emulation” as the third behavioural stage for overcoming envy and hate as the key to achieving inner content .
Interestingly it was the Jewish American psychologist of the past century, Abraham Maslow , himself a target of anti-semitism , who proposed the Theory named , “Hierarchy of Needs . “ He spoke of “Self -Actualisation”, which was only possible after the preceding level of “ self esteem” , as being the highest level of the pyramid he used to illustrate his hierarchy.
As of all sound ideas, it’s origin lies 2000 years earlier when Aristotle posited in in his “Rhetoric the the virtue of Emulation.
Explaining why only a minority adopted this practice he wrote, “ Emulation is felt most keenly of all, by those with an honourable or noble disposition “
The Rebbe was always urging his wide and varied audience to live by his own coined adage , “ Action is Supreme “ . In fact he was asking us to reach out to our non-Jewish neighbours both persuading them and helping them in every possible way to observe the Seven Basic Laws for Humanity.
Leading from the front , he was the very first one to challenge
the Supreme Court Ruling in 1963, who by a majority of 5-4
upheld a challenge to the standard practice of all State school children saying a daily prayer, declaring it was an infringement of the Separation of State and Religion. His pleadings and warnings of the bitter consequences which would ensue, went unheard but today, some 56 years later his words are beginning to resonate.
In the wake of the recent tragic slaughters taking place indiscriminately in all houses of worship, the Rebbe’s call for a “Moment of Silence” in all state schools has gained ground in numerous States . It’s benefits have been demonstrated effectively lowering the overall crime rate .
Can we all respond to his call?
As usual and inevitably, the choice is ours.
Rabbi Faivish Vogel
Centre For Jewish Life