The UN(der)APPRECIATED GIFT – Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz

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Operation Inspiration

 

The UN(der)APPRECIATED GIFT

 

There’s an expression in my wife’s family: “If Suri offers you a mint, take it.” The idea is that though you may not want the mint or be in the mood for it, you might need the mint. Taking the hint, you might not only accept her offer, but you might go brush your teeth or use mouthwash. Then, for the next while, you’d probably be more aware of potential bad breath and how it affects you and those around you.

The same goes, for example, if someone offers you a tissue. You may feel you don’t need it, but perhaps he ‘nose’ something you don’t. Just take it gratefully and blow your honker. You’ll likely be glad you did. You see, sometimes, we don’t get the hint that someone is trying to tell us something.

Oftentimes people will try to help us without spelling out exactly how they’re doing so. It is embarrassing to say, “You have food in your beard,” so we stroke our faces and say, “Go like this.” Hopefully they accept the message, realize they must have food on their face and appreciate that we were looking out for them. There’s another key example of this that I think few people appreciate.

In today’s world it’s called: Anti-Semitism.

Now, a Semite is anyone descended from Noach’s son Shem, so this is a much broader term than what we are really referring to, which is anti-Jewish sentiment. We don’t call someone who doesn’t like Arameans an anti-Semite, and besides for possible regional reasons, nobody seems to care about the Arameans. The phrase was used in 19th Century Germany referring specifically to Jews and extended a hypothesis that Jews were inferior for their Monotheistic beliefs which stemmed from various base character traits.  Of course nothing could be further from the truth as our belief in the One G-d is based on rational thought, Divine revelation, and our mesorah/tradition.

This predisposition against Jews predates Germany and is thousands of years older. As R’ Shimon says, “It is a known halacha that Esav hates Yaakov.” People who’ve never met Jews claim they can smell them a mile away and they have all sorts of incorrect notions about us. Why is this, and what can we do about it?

Well, the root cause of Anti-Semitism is NOT intolerance, lack of diversity, nor failure to respect human beings and all living creatures. It’s not even jealousy, though that definitely is a pervasive trait passed down from Esav to his descendants. If we think this is the cause, we will never be able to eradicate it.

The REAL reason people hate the Jews is because HaShem knows it’s good for us. “What?!” you may exclaim. “How can Anti-Semitism possibly be good for us? Is it good that people have killed Jews for millennia? Is it beneficial that they’ve made it hard to practice our religion in safety? That we’ve had our blood spilled and our bodies mangled?!” And the surprising, soft-spoken answer is: “Yes.”

Of course, it’s tragic on an individual level when someone is hurt G-d forbid, and it is painful for those involved, but it is a very basic and important tenet of our faith that HaShem is in control of the world and does not let people simply do what they want. He does not allow Anti-Semites to hurt those who don’t deserve or need it in some way or who won’t benefit from it by wiping out their sins or helping them rise to a higher spiritual level. Their hatred is not the result of their own bad midos, but the desire of HaShem to point out that we are different and help us rise to the occasion. This may be hard for people to hear, but it’s true.

We’re not like everyone else. We’ve been charged with a higher purpose, much like the Kohanim who have a higher level of responsibility within Klal Yisrael. Anti-Semitism requires us to choose to identify as Jews and fight for what we believe in. This in turn makes our conviction deeper.

Even when we sometimes forget to act like Jews, the world will never let us forget who we are. Much like the person handing us the mint because they are aware of a shortcoming we’re not, this is HaShem’s way of keeping us in line and helping us when we don’t yet realize we’re in need of help.

The Jews of Shushan thought they were doing everything right when they ate Glatt Kosher food at Achashveirosh’s party and thought Mordechai was mistaken for telling them they didn’t belong there, so HaShem sent Haman to remind us of our place.

It wasn’t at the king’s table, but rather our place was to realize that our own tables are royal since we are the children of the true King, HaKadosh Baruch Hu. Through this Anti-Semitism, we were pushed into complete Teshuva and when we came back we reached a new level of Kabolas HaTorah – that of accepting the Torah with love. Through this metamorphosis, we realized that everything in the is intended to help us enjoy life to the fullest in this world and the next – even the halacha that Esav will always hate Yaakov.

So, if you want to combat Anti-Semitism, don’t do it with posters or memes or candle-light vigils. Open the gift and look inside to see what the wrapping is obscuring. Then fight Anti-Semitism by being the best you can be, and not needing anyone to remind you.

 

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