The Torah’s morality and ethics have infiltrated the lives of the other nations, even against their will. Even that demon leader of the Nazis, yemach shemo, came right out and admitted that the Jewish people must be uprooted from the world because they embody the Jewish conscience, the bane of world culture
In Eretz Yisrael this year, one of the Shavuos preparations included a special day of tefillah on Thursday, the eve of Rosh Chodesh Sivan. At the behest of gedolei Yisrael, Torah-faithful Jews gathered to cry out to the Heavens in face of the schemes being hatched against the yeshivah world. Perhaps our readers in chutz laaretz wonder what all the noise is about, but our gedolim agree that the current situation calls for intense public prayer.
What I don’t understand, though, is how so many people seem to think this is a situation that has suddenly cropped up: we were all learning Torah peacefully, until these “share the burden” people came on the scene. They’ve started persecuting us, and we need to cry out for Heavenly mercy.
But it isn’t true that all was peaceful and serene. Never, since the Revelation of the Torah on Har Sinai, has undisturbed Torah study been something we could take for granted, as if we were living in some nature preserve, protected by common agreement. From its inception, Torah study has always met with difficulties, malicious decrees, persecution and plotting.
The Gemara (Shabbos 89) says, “What is Har Sinai? The mountain on which hatred came to the nations.” It goes on to say, “Rabi Abahu said, ‘And why is it called Har Chorev? Because on it, churvah, destruction, came to the nations.’”
How could the Torah, the eternal Divine light, bring “hatred” to the world on the day it was given? According to one interpretation, this refers to Am Yisrael’s hatred for the idolatrous nations that cling to the darkness of their abominations and refuse to absorb the Torah’s message for tikun olam and the redemption of society. On the other hand, the hatred that began on Har Sinai also includes the hatred of the nations toward us. For in their benighted idolatry they didn’t have the strength to bear the light that broke forth from the Torah.
To this, Rabi Abahu adds the concept of churvah. What he means is that against their will, the idolatrous world too benefited from the Torah’s light. The power of Torah revealed to the world caused paganism to weaken and recede, until it essentially passed from the world. Although the world has not yet come to full recognition of Divine truth in its pure form, the man-made substitutes — Christianity and Islam, draw the basis of their beliefs from that great event. According to the Rambam, these religions are part of the process leading to the ultimate Redemption.
All in all, then, the whole world gained from the Revelation of the Torah. And yet, the world’s animosity toward us, for having compelled them to accept a small measure of the message of Sinai, is murderous and insatiable.
After World War II, a French philosopher was asked to define his concept of the Jew. “The Jew,” he replied, “is the one who won’t let us sleep in peace.” That’s a good definition. Like it or not, we are the conscience of the world, and we afflict it with pangs, disturbing its peace of mind. More than a century ago, a renowned German philosopher said that the true reason the Christian world hates the Jews is not what people think — not because they think the Jews killed oso ha’ish, who they believe to be the son of G‑d, but because it was the Jewish people who gave him to them in the first place. They would have liked to remain pagan, and then he came along….
When the Torah was offered, the nations rejected it, and when it was given, its light spread over the world, intruding on their way of life against their will.
“The story of Jewish identity across the millennia against impossible odds is a unique miracle of cultural survival… But however miraculous Jewish survival may be, the greater miracle is surely that the Jews developed a whole new way of experiencing reality, the only alternative to all ancient worldviews and all ancient religions. If one is ever to find the finger of G‑d in human affairs, one must find it here,” Wrote historian Thomas Cahill (The Gifts of the Jews).
Cahill describes how he sees the world culture today:
“The Jews gave us the Outside and the Inside — our outlook and our inner life. We can hardly get up in the morning or cross the street without being Jewish. We dream Jewish dreams and hope Jewish hopes. Most of our best words, in fact — new, adventure, surprise; unique, individual, person, vocation; time, history, future; freedom, progress, spirit; faith, hope, justice — are gifts of the Jews.”
Chazal concurred long ago: “When HaKadosh Baruch Hu revealed Himself to give the Torah to Israel, He revealed Himself not in one tongue, but in four tongues: the Hebrew tongue, the Roman tongue, the Arabic tongue, and the Aramaic tongue” (Sifri, Devarim).
Yes, the Torah’s morality and ethics have infiltrated the lives of the other nations, although it goes against their grain, and this is the very reason they hate us. The demon leader of the Nazis, yemach shemo, came right out and said that the Jewish people must be uprooted from the world because they embody the Jewish conscience, the bane of world culture.
Due to this age-old animosity, Torah study has faced countless threats throughout history. The peoples who would rather be left to sleep in peace among their abominations will do anything to silence the voice of Torah. Ever since the Roman decrees against Torah study, burning of Torah scrolls and deadly persecution of Torah Sages have run like a red thread through the chronicles of Torah life, encompassing the entire Jewish people -- from the burning of the Torah by Apostomos to the burning of the Talmud by rioters in the streets of Paris in the Middle Ages, from the decrees of Antiochus to the forced conversions of King Manuel of Portugal in 1497, on up to Hitler’s campaign to destroy us a generation ago.
But wonder of wonders, none of them have ever succeeded in overcoming the Torah, although judging by how much the Torah has been persecuted, it should have disappeared from civilization long ago. The secret lies in Chazal’s dictum (Shemos Rabbah, Terumah): “Is there a sale in which the seller is sold along with the merchandise? HaKadosh Baruch Hu said toIsrael, I sold you the Torah, and as it were, I was sold with it.”
This is the secret, the law underlying Torah study. It can’t know a quiet existence, because if it did, if it were to get too friendly a reception in the world, it would gradually be forgotten. When liberal-minded rulers inEuropefirst proclaimed emancipation for the Jews and granted them various civil rights, leaders in the world of Torah and Chassidus saw this as an incipient disaster, leading to assimilation and the loss of a large portion of Jewry, another form of Holocaust. We have been witness to this sad reality from then to the present day.
The same secret applies to the survival of Torah in Eretz Yisrael. We should be grateful to Ben Gurion for making army service obligatory on anyone who leaves yeshivah for the workforce. In this convoluted way, young men have remained in yeshivah for decades, thus realizing the dream of the Chazon Ish and Rav Aharon Kotler, who saw it as their obligation to rebuild the decimated Torah world following the war. As a result, a generation of talmidei chachamim has emerged that has immeasurably changed the face of chareidi society. The ruling class and the media, alienated and full of hatred for the Torah world, actually kept their distance and enabled this welcome growth.
Those who plot against the Torah world today are motivated by the same animosity that has long stirred in the hearts of the nations. They can’t enjoy their Western liberalism and self-centered individualism in peace, because the presence of Torah gets in the way of a new permissive society unfettered by Judaism. So, sensing where their values have led them, they can only justify themselves by striking out at those who won’t let them sleep in peace.
So, as we see the storm brewing, this Shavuos we can internalize that the harassment is really to the Torah’s benefit. As we prepare for Matan Torah, let us recognize the eternity of the Torah, which has survived and thrived despite it all. And one day even the enemies of Torah will have to say Amen.
Food for Thought
“Lo baShamayim hi” —
The Torah is not found with someone who thinks
he has already reached the highest heavens
(Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Kotzk)