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We are not anti-anti-Semites

Friday, 31 July, 2020 - 12:20 pm

I tuned in to the first two segments of the NCJW series on anti-Semitism, where were quite edifying. The first presenter, Dr. Gil Troy, said something that caught my attention. He was addressing the idea that Jews must not allow themselves to be defined or obsessed with those that hate us. He quoted someone (I cannot recall who) as saying, “We must be defined by Sinai rather than by Auschwitz.” I did not have the opportunity to ask the presenter how he applied this idea, but I will share mine. This was a very succinct way of summarizing an idea that I have argued for many times, including in this forum.

In fact, this week’s Torah portion tells us as much. Moshe instructs the Jewish people, “But beware and watch yourself very well, lest you forget the things that your eyes saw, and lest these things depart from your heart, all the days of your life, and you shall make them known to your children and to your children's children. The day you stood before the L-rd your G-d at Horeb…” This passage has been immortalized as one of the six remembrances that we recite each day. (For more on that www.chabadneworleans.com/2263399.)

What does it mean that we are meant to remember something? The Hebrew word Zachor is a present tense active verb. It implies constancy. Of course we need to remember Auschwitz. In fact remembering what Amalek did to us is one of the six remembrances. It is not a stretch to apply that to the Holocaust. Of course we need to be aware of anti-Semitism around us in the present forms (from all sides). But that should not be what defines us as Jews. Our mandate for what defines us as Jews was given at Sinai. It is a mandate to promote light and lovingkindness.

This mandate is invigorating.

It is to live and be a shining example of what it means to believe in one G-d, who is the source of all that is good and moral in this world. To demonstrate a certainty in a system of morals that is not relativistic.

It is to live and be a shining example of what it means to be an honest and trustworthy person, not because of what someone else might think of you, but because that’s who you are supposed to be.

It is to live and be a shining example of what it means to be (at least) equally as devoted to our spiritual development as we are to our material growth.

It is to live and be a shining example of what it means to truly care for others, just because they were created in G-d’s image.   

It is to live and be a shining example of how a lowly human can have a passionate relationship with an infinite G-d.

We are a force for positivity not just a response to negativity.

I end with an appeal to the hearts of the readers of these words. Yesterday, I lost a classmate and friend. R’ Shimon Potash, with whom I spent several years in Yeshiva, died suddenly leaving a wife and six children behind. His health history did not allow him to take the steps needed to financially protect his family in the event of this tragedy. My classmates and I are trying to raise some money to provide his family with a little bit of breathing space while they grieve over their heartrending loss. I invite the members of our community to join me in this mitzvah. Please let me know if you would like to get involved. This is a truly just cause. May the merit of our Tzedakah bring comfort to the family and blessing to all those who participated. May Hashem grant our world the healing and comfort we all need through the coming of Moshiach speedily.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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