It feels like Germany in the 1930s again. But this time it's in Nashville and it's 2023.
Just a few weeks ago various Hate groups have declared the Shabbat of February 25, 2023 a “National Day of Hate” targeting Jews specifically. Jews were concerned, feeling vulnerable, and even afraid. Why is this happening? Why are they picking on us hard-working, innocent Jews more than on any other minority? Are we truly that evil? Has the world really learned nothing at all after all we’ve already been through?!
Admittedly, these groups are trained to push the limits of the law, but largely to stay within its broad confines. They want to provoke us to react—to debate them, to insult them and, G-d forbid, to use violence in response to their deplorable actions, all while they gleefully film and live stream the event to present us in a poor light to the rest of the world.
In just a few days, we will celebrate the Festival of Passover, a time which commemorates the Exodus from Egypt. For close to a period of 100 years the Jewish people experienced bondage and slavery, pain and torture, and the slaughtering of thousands of Jewish babies in Egypt, all led by the chief antisemite of his time King Pharaoh. Why this hatred, why has this antisemitism been so prevalent over the many generations, and especially in our times?
I would like to share with you a profound idea that sheds light on the scourge of this hatred. Through unlocking the depth and relevance of an enigmatic Talmudic teaching, we uncover the spiritual source of anti-Semitism and how we can conquer it.
In an impassioned sermon delivered on Purim 1962, the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson of blessed memory, a man who was the spiritual leader of our generation— clarified the true cause for anti-Semitism and empowered us with the tools to block it at its core.
He quoted an enigmatic statement in the Talmud (Kiddushin 33b) which states that the reason anti-Semites attack the Jews is our violating the sin of “Possessing False Weights.” When purchasing a pound of produce or meat, we assume that the measurements are precise. But when one party is deceitful, they will use a false weight to measure the product to their advantage. The Torah prohibits us from even owning an imprecise weight, never mind using one in a devious transaction.
The Talmud’s statement seems to make no sense. Why on earth would possession of inaccurate weights have any connection at all with anti-Semites attacking us? But the Rebbe’s explanation put it all in clear perspective.
As modern-day American Jews, we tend to have double standards in the balance of material and spiritual pursuits—we will leave no stone unturned in our attempts to support our financial needs, but when we discover that Kosher meat is slightly more expensive than treif, suddenly we get cold feet. We wouldn’t be caught dead using an old iPhone, yet we have no qualms about using our grandfather’s Tefillin because we "can’t afford" to buy a new pair.
We are sure to be fluent in Shakespeare, the Wall Street Journal or, at the very least, all the movies that came out in the past 30 years, but when it comes to Talmud, Torah, or our Jewish heritage, we’ve barely given it ten minutes of our attention. We’ll vigorously endure a painful gym membership to ensure the health of our bodies, but we don’t even bother to ask what the needs of our souls are.
We’ll "religiously" pursue every cruise and vacation, but we can count on one hand the number of times we’ve visited the Holy Land and her sacred sites. We wouldn't miss out on a Bruce Springsteen concert for the world, but Shabbat in Shul is something we squeeze in only if nothing more interesting is happening. Our kids will be given the finest education in nothing less than Ivy League schools, but their Jewish education suddenly ended in their early teens.
It is these double standards that we all exercise in our personal lives that are the cause of the double standards in how the gentiles perceive us!
When we carry "false weights" within ourselves—giving undue prominence to our material pursuits and the needs of our bodies over our spiritual interests and the needs of our souls—the nations of the world hold us to a far harsher standard than they use against anyone else. It is important that we are scrupulously honest, not just in the external physical world but also in our internal spiritual world, for they are intrinsically connected. But when we have a double standard within ourselves, the nations of the world judge us by a double standard too.
Instead of reacting to the hate, let’s approach this challenge with wisdom, character, responsibility, and poise. Let's not allow the haters to define us; it's up to us Jews to define ourselves. Being Jewish is not just about facing anti anti-Semites; it's about embracing our Judaism, our Torah, and our unique and holy mission upon this Earth.
It’s time for us to declare that we’re not just Jewish because they hate us but rather because He chose us! Let's deliberately put our fingers on the other side of the scale weighing it down towards Mitzvahs and Torah and our G-dly mission on this Earth.
If there’s a mitzvah that you don’t usually do, commit to doing it today, just to counter the unequal weights. And if you don’t fully believe in it yet, then do it for the team! Foster unconditional love of our fellow Jews by calling a friend that you haven’t spoken to in a while just to wish them a Shabbat Shalom.
Light Shabbat Candles on Fridays before sunset, with the special blessing, and if you don’t yet regularly honor the Shabbat with Kiddush wine, bring out your cup and recite the Kiddush over it, surrounded by friends and family.
Pick a Mitzvah that you don’t normally do and take it on today, just to get our national scales back in the balance.
Let's counterbalance their hate for us, with our love for each other, and love for our G-d, with even more passion than they hate us! Let's replace fear with bold faith, joyously recalling that it’s not the anti-Semites who control the agenda but rather our beloved Father in Heaven who is yearning for a relationship with us, His beloved children!
“Never Again”, means we will never cower to the bullies. We will never hide our faith but double down instead, with a depth of faith and the courage of our convictions. Because if we don’t respect ourselves then how could we possibly expect them to respect us?
Wishing our Nashville Jewish community, a Passover of changing gears from anti-Semitism to pro-Semitism, becoming a true Light to the Nations, and help eradicate antisemitism, as we live our lives as a proud Jewish people.
Rabbi Yitzchok Tiechtel is the Rabbi at Congregation Beit Tefilah Chabad, and the director of Chabad of Nashville
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