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A Response to Anti-Semitism: Focus on the 'Why' Not the 'What'

By Rabbi Yosef Vogel | March 2, 2023

It has been called the oldest hatred. It is as enigmatic as it is real. It has been one of the most destructive forces in history while simultaneously being one of history’s greatest catalysts.

Though it is both prevalent and timeless, there is no consensus on its definition. Even its name is subject to debate!

It is perhaps the root of all toxicity throughout history. We are all stakeholders in the game, either as perpetrators or as its victims.

In its most simple form, it is called Jew-hatred.

Few people know that the Talmud offers a most insightful parable on this enigmatic subject.

“The actions of Ahasuerus and Haman (in the story of Purim) resemble a parable. There were once two individuals, one with a mound in the middle of his field and the other with a ditch in the middle of his field, each suffering from his own predicament.

The owner of the ditch noticed the other’s mound of dirt and said to himself: “Who will give me this mound of dirt suitable for filling in my ditch; I would even be willing to pay for it with money! Meanwhile, the owner of the mound noticed the other’s ditch and said to himself: Who will give me this ditch for money so that I may use it to remove the mound of earth from my property?

One day, they met one another. The ditch owner told the mound owner: Sell me your mound so I can fill in my ditch. The mound’s owner, anxious to rid himself of the excess dirt on his property, said to him: Take it for free; if only you had done so sooner.

Similarly, Ahasuerus himself wanted to destroy the Jews. He was delighted that Haman had similar aspirations and was willing to do the job for him, so he demanded no money from him”. (Megillah 14a)

Any time the Talmud offers a parable, it is only to unlock a more profound insight that is not immediately apparent. Isn’t the story of Purim a classic case of Jew hatred? Haman wants to destroy all the Jewish people, and Ahasuerus is happy to oblige. Sound familiar! Why is any explanation needed?

The Rebbe offers a most insightful explanation, revealing the ‘what’ of Jew hatred and its ‘why.’

The parable conveys the dual underlying causes of Jew hatred, indeed, two sides of the same coin.

On the surface, the gentile views the Jew with suspicion and varying degrees of animosity at worst.

The non-Jew sees himself as an inhabitant of the earth whose mission is to ‘live and let live’ in the most amicable way. Yet he sees the Jew as somewhat mysterious, And although he can’t describe exactly why, he senses the Jew as different.

The Jew, he feels, has an agenda, which, because the gentile can’t figure out, he feels threatened as a result. Consequently, he hates the Jew. It doesn’t matter if the Jew is rich or poor, liberal or conservative, or privileged. Hate is fueled by fear, which in turn, is fueled by ignorance.

The owner, who has a ‘mound’ in his field, represents this hatred. The mere existence of the ‘mound’ bothers the ‘owner’ of the field, and he can’t wait to get rid of it.

Yet there is a deeper tier that captures the core underlying cause of ‘Jew-hatred.’

The gentile watches the Jew and observes something, exposing the non-Jew most existentially.

He feels that the Jew is endowed with a profound sense of purpose. While fully engaged in the material world, his life is imbued with deep meaning. He is linked to a cause greater than himself. He is part of history, yet he transcends it.

The non-Jew envies the Jew. The Jew’s existence exposes an existential vacuum within him.

The gentile has a choice. He can fill his ‘vacuum’ with spiritual nutrition or get rid of the person who reminds him. “If one does not like the message, kill the messenger.”

In truth, this metaphor explains the deeper dynamics of envy, which is the underlying cause of the most intense and prolonged type of hatred. It is intense because one is bothered on a most fundamental level. It is prolonged because, who likes to admit that he is envious?

One can only solve a problem if one addresses its underlying causes. In alignment with this perspective, the Rebbe offered a refreshing response to anti-semitism. In echoing the advice provided by Maimonides, He encouraged sharing the universal value system given to all humanity at Mount Sinai. It is only by filling one’s ‘vacuum’ that one feels fulfilled.

Indeed this noble task is the most authentic expression of the vision of our prophets, that the Jewish people will be “a light unto the nations.” As a result of the unprecedented freedom enjoyed by the Jewish people today, there has never been a better opportunity!


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