After seventy incidents of bomb threats aimed at JCCs [Jewish Community Centers] throughout the US, two vandalized cemeteries (one in St. Louis and one in Philadelphia), a Texas school teacher who was fired for a “kill some Jews” tweet, and after swastikas and racial slurs were spray painted on cars, a building, and a school playground near Buffalo, and a CUNY administrator complained about having “too many Jews” on the staff, we can officially say that there is antisemitism in America. Finally, Jewish leaders feel confident enough to talk about a “worldwide pandemic” and not exclude the US from the picture.
The intensification of antisemitism is not coincidental. It is a result of a natural, mandatory process by which the more selfish a society becomes, the more it is prone to antisemitism. In the book, Like a Bundle of Reeds: Why Unity and Mutual Guarantee Are Today’s Call of the Hour, and on the Internet site, “Why Do People Hate Jews,” I show that regardless of upbringing, beyond a certain level of egoism, antisemitism must surface in the same way that only so much salt can dissolve in water before it begins to show.
Egoism vs. the Law of Unity
Maimonides, Midrash Rabah, and many other sources tell us that during the time of Abraham the Patriarch, Abraham would observe his countryfolk building the Tower of Babel. He noticed that the builders were growing increasingly self-centered and alienated from each other, which prompted him to search for an explanation. The book Pirkey de Rabbi Eliezer (Chapter 24) illustrates how the Babylonians “wanted to speak to one another but did not know each other’s language. What did they do? Each took up his sword and they fought each other to death. Indeed, half the world was slaughtered there, and from there they scattered all over the world.”
This hatred troubled Abraham and he wondered who or what was causing this change. According to Maimonides, Abraham “began to ponder day and night, how it was possible for this wheel to always turn without a driver” (Mishneh Torah, Chapter 1). In doing so, he discovered a unifying force that is the root of all of creation, and called that force “God.”
Abraham realized that in order to ensure a good life, people did not need to bow to this God or offer it semolina, as his countryfolk would do with their gods at the time. All you needed to do in order to be happy and resolve the hatred was to rise above it and unite. But when Abraham suggested that the Babylonians unite instead of fighting, their king, Nimrod, expelled him from his country.
As the exiled Abraham wandered toward Canaan, people “gathered around him and asked him about his words,” writes Maimonides. “He taught everyone … until thousands and tens of thousands assembled around him, and they are the people of the house of Abraham. He planted this tenet in their hearts, composed books about it, and taught his son, Isaac. And Isaac sat and taught and warned, and informed Jacob, and appointed him a teacher, to sit and teach… And Jacob our Father taught all his sons.”
Finally, a tribe that knew the law of unity was formed, as was the hatred for that law and those who espouse it.
A few centuries later, Moses wanted to do the same as Abraham. He aspired to unite his people, and faced Pharaoh’s fierce resistance. Like Abraham before him, Moses fled with his people, except this time they numbered in the millions and therefore needed an “upgrade” of Abraham’s method of connection.
The upgrade was the Torah—a set of laws that comes down to one and only principle, which Old Hillel described very simply: “That which you hate, do not do unto your neighbor; this is the whole of the Torah. The rest is commentary; go study” (Shabbat, 31a). Under Moses, the Hebrew tribes united and became a nation, but only after they committed to be “as one man with one heart.” The new nation got its name, Israel, from its vocation, to go Yashar-El (straight to God)—to achieve the same unity as the force that Abraham had discovered.
Immediately after becoming a nation, Israel was tasked with completing what Abraham intended to achieve when he first began to speak of unity above hatred—that the whole world would benefit from the method. “Moses wished to complete the correction of the world at that time. … However, he did not succeed because of the corruptions that occurred along the way,” wrote Ramchal in his commentary on the Torah. But once Israel achieved unity, they were tasked with passing it on, or as the Torah put it, with being “a light unto nations.”
When Egoism Spreads Ruin, the Jews Are Blamed for It
Following the formation of the Jewish nation, the Jews knew many ups and downs. When unity prevailed among us, we prospered. When egoism took over, we suffered. But when the egoism of our ancestors reached such levels that they could not tolerate each other, sina’at hinam (unfounded/baseless hatred) erupted among them and weakened their strength. Finally, the leader of the Roman legion in Judea, Tiberius Julius Alexander—himself a Jew whose own father had coated the Temple’s gates with gold—destroyed the Temple and exiled the Jews from the land of Israel. In the words of the Maharal of Prague: “The Temple was ruined because of unfounded hatred, because their hearts divided and they were unworthy of a Temple, which is the unification of Israel” (Netzah Israel).
The hatred that destroyed us then persists to this day. And yet, the seed of unity still lies within us and is still our only source of strength. Throughout the ages, our sages have stressed that unity is the key to our salvation. The book Maor VaShemesh writes, “The prime defense against calamity is love and unity. When there are love, unity, and friendship between each other in Israel, no calamity can come over them.” Likewise, The Book of Consciousness writes, “We are commanded at each generation to strengthen the unity among us so our enemies do not rule over us.”
Although the seed of unity exists within us, as long as we are disunited, we cannot be “a light unto nations” and we are not spreading unity to the world, as Abraham and Moses had intended. At the same time, humanity is growing increasingly egoistic. Our egoism today is so intense that even though we know that we are ruining our children’s future by polluting our planet, we simply do not care enough to stop. We understand that pluralism is important and liberalism is vital to society, but everyone is so narcissistic that we simply cannot listen to each other, much less unite above our differences. In such a state, the hatred toward Jews intensifies because we both hold the key to overcoming egoism, yet the egoism within us rejects that remedy, like King Nimrod before and Pharaoh after him. This is when the situation becomes dangerous for Jews.
At the heyday of the Spanish monarchy, for instance, when its pride and confidence were at their highest, the axe came down on the Jews. Despite their deep immersion in the Spanish society and remoteness from their own religion, the Jews were blamed for all of Spain’s troubles and were expelled, tortured, and killed by the Inquisition under the leadership of Torquemada, who—like Tiberius—was of Jewish descent. In the previous century, Germany was on the top of the world. But as it fell, it turned its anger at the Jews. When Adolf Hitler could not expel the Jews, because no one would have them, he simply exterminated them.
Teetering between Nazism and Unity
The Book of Zohar writes, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to also sit together. These are the friends as they sit together, and are not separated from each other. At first, they seem like people at war, wishing to kill one another. Then they return to being in brotherly love. …And you, the friends who are here, as you were in fondness and love before, henceforth you will also not part … And by your merit there will be peace in the world” (Aharei Mot).
Similar to The Zohar, its great commentator, Rav Yehuda Ashlag, wrote that “the Israeli nation had been constructed as a gateway by which the world can understand the pleasantness and tranquility in love of others.” Like Ashlag, the Rav Kook wrote, “In Israel is the secret to the unity of the world” (Orot Kodesh).
As much as we may hate the thought, we are the carriers of Abraham’s method of correction for the egoism that separates and destroys our world. If we do not implement among us this method of uniting above differences, the nations will blame us for their woes and punish us yet again. But if we do implement it among us, the whole world will come to learn how. The most notorious anti-Semite in American history, Henry Ford, recognized the role of the Jews toward society in his book, The International Jew—The World’s Foremost Problem: “Modern reformers, who are constructing model social systems, would do well to look into the social system under which the early Jews were organized.”
For decades, America has been on a path of growing egoism, alienation, and social isolation. Depression has been the primary cause of illness in the country for years now, and despair is growing rapidly. If a book titled The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement can reach the top of The New York Times bestseller list, and Millennials define their milieu as the “Me, Me, Me” culture, you know that the country is on the brink of implosion. And when the American society collapses, it could easily take on some form of Nazism or extreme fascism.
We think that Nazi Germany was a one-time event. But saying “Never again” will not prevent history from repeating itself. We are forgetting that it was not the Germans who invented the yellow badge, but the British, as early as 1218.
In the early 1950s, Rav Yehuda Ashlag wrote in The Writings of the Last Generation: “The world erroneously considers Nazism a particular offshoot of Germany. In truth … all the nations are equal in that; there is no hope at all that Nazism will perish with the victory of the allies, for tomorrow the Anglo-Saxons will adopt Nazism.”
If American Jews do not take their lives in their own hands and force themselves to unite above their mutual dislike, the Americans will force them to do so through bloodshed. There is no more time. The Jews must put aside all differences and unite because unity is the Jewish people’s sole salvation, and because when we unite, we are a light unto nations—giving the world what Abraham intended for humanity to have almost four millennia ago, and what the world so badly needs today.
Reprinted with author’s permission from The Jerusalem Post