A Time of Confusion and Clarity

BY RABBI REUVEN TARAGIN

The Jews of Shushan were confused. They considered Shushan and the Persian Empire their home and viewed themselves as central to its social and political structure. They knew Haman hated them, but assumed the king would never adopt his genocidal suggestions. Haman was an extremist, but the Persian ‘mainstream’ was tolerant and accepted the Jewish people. Achashverosh invited them to his lavish party. How could he suddenly call for their annihilation? 

Like Yosef in Egypt, Persian Jews contributed to society and thought they were safe. Like Ya’akov’s family, they were suddenly targeted for persecution. For the first time since Egypt, the Jewish people were back in exile and, once again, subject to the whims of their host nation and its leaders.

The Babylonian and Persian empires were the first of many stops during our lengthy exile. We returned to Israel and rebuilt the Beit HaMikdash but were exiled again after its destruction. Scattered across the globe, we continued suffering the same fate. We contributed to our host countries and often achieved positions of power and prominence. We assumed that we were safe because we were appreciated and respected. And then, often without warning, we were attacked, persecuted, and even banished. 

The Jews of Shushan were merely the first Jews to experience the confusion of exile. Jews of England, Germany, France, Spain, Russia, Ukraine, and eventually everyone in European and Arabic lands suffered the same fate.

Today, we are even more confused than our ancestors. Our liberal societies purportedly do not judge their citizens based on their religious or ethnic identity. We assumed that our Jewish identity would no longer be an issue and that we would no longer be attacked. Though there would always be antisemites, we were confident that the educated and tolerant mainstream had learned the lesson of the Holocaust. We assumed we would never again be hypocritically singled out or demonized.

We were wrong. Since October 7, organizations like UN Women have accused us of the very crimes that were perpetuated against our people. Over 1,200 Jews were slaughtered on October 7, but we are the ones accused of genocide. 

Jews in New York, London, and Paris are confused. How could hundreds of thousands march in favor of Hamas and the destruction of the State of Israel, shouting Nazi propaganda? How could universities, supposed bastions of humanism and multiculturalism, tolerate calls to attack and murder Jews? How could the ICJ seriously consider the slanderous claims against the State of Israel?

Thousands of years have passed since Shushan, but we remain confused. Why are we always attacked, mistreated, isolated, and lonely?

Yechezkel explains that Hashem uses antisemitism to stem our assimilation (20:32–33). When Jews see themselves as part of broader society, Hashem ensures that society will remind us that we are different. We are the nation that dwells alone (Bamidbar 23:9), and Hashem has given us a unique mission. 

Don Isaac Abarbanel, the most prominent Jew among the Spanish exiles of 1492, believed Yechezkel’s prophecy spoke to his generation as well. Spanish and Portuguese Jewry flourished in the Iberian Peninsula for centuries, but with the advent of the Inquisition, they were suddenly persecuted and banished. Based on Yechezkel’s prophecy, Abarbanel explained that the persecution was meant to remind Iberian Jewry that they were different and did not truly belong in exile. 

Anne Frank responded similarly to Nazi oppression: “The persecution reminds us that we are not like the rest of the nations of the world – we have a higher purpose… We can never become just Netherlanders, or just English or representatives of any country for that matter. We will always remain Jews” (Diary of a Young Girl, April 11, 1944).

Yirmiyahu begins Megillat Eicha by wondering why the Jewish people are so isolated, and why no one consoles us when we suffer. He answers that Hashem keeps others from sympathizing so that we are forced to return to Him. Knowing that only G-d cares for us forces us to turn to Him.

Like the Jewish people in the times of Yechezkel, Yirmiyahu, and the Abarbanel, we now have clarity. We gained entry into elite schools, professions, and neighborhoods. We thought our host countries had fully accepted us and believed our societies had overcome racism, prejudice, and discrimination. But recent events are a rude reminder that this is not the case.  

The time has come to revisit and internalize the words of Anne Frank: “Who has made us Jews different from all other people? Who has allowed us to suffer so terribly up until now? It is G-d who has made us as we are, but it will be G-d, too, Who will raise us up again. Who knows, it might even be our religion from which the world and all peoples learn good, and for that reason and only that reason do we suffer.”

 

Rabbi Reuven Taragin is Educational Director of Mizrachi and Dean of the Yeshivat Hakotel Overseas Program.

© 2024 World Mizrachi

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