2nd Day Rosh HaShanah – “Purim in the Messianic Era” (5777)
With thanks to my colleagues: Rabbis Paul Plotkin, Arthur Lavinsky and Jack Riemer for sharing their ideas with me.
Let me begin with a question. I was asked this question when I was in Rabbinical school and I can assure you – I didn’t get the answer correct. Here we go – The Rabbis of the Talmud teach that when the Messiah comes – all the holidays on the Jewish calendar will be suspended with the exception of one. Which one is it? My guess was Yom Kippur – because I reasoned that in the Messianic era we’d still be human and still make some mistakes. But I got it wrong. The answer is – the Festival of Purim.
Wow – I wouldn’t have guessed that – would you? The only holiday we observe in the Messianic era is Purim?? Why? There is one reason and it’s shocking – maybe even a bit depressing. The reason we will still celebrate Purim in the Messianic era according to the Rabbis is this – even when the Messiah comes there will still be anti-Semitism and hatred of Israel! How about that for a depressing statement! It means the Rabbis could not imagine a time when anti-Semitism and hatred of a Jewish state would not exist. That Rabbinic idea has always mystified me but I’m starting to get it. What the Rabbis were saying is this –humans are flawed and imperfect and one of those built in flaws is that there will always be anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism in the world. It is the one constant – the one unshakable neurosis and hatred that has withstood the passage of time and history. It is in DNA of a significant part of humanity and we can’t seem to excise it. Why – because Jew hatred is the hatred of ‘the other’ – of that which is ‘different’. And we the Jewish people have been the most obvious ‘other’. It is hatred of a people that brought the bible to the world – the Bible which says that evil must be punished – the Flood of Noah – that slavery and dictatorship is evil and must be eradicated – Moses and God against Pharaoh – it is the bible which demands justice – Justice, justice you shall pursue – it is the Bible which demands help for the poor, the widowed and the orphan. It is the Bible that says to the world – all human beings are created equal – you are not better than anyone else – you cannot rule over others – you cannot have corrupt governments and courts and slaughter innocents in the name of your false ideology, politics or religion. It is the Bible that demands compassion and fairness. A significant part of the world has never and will never forgive the Jew for bringing this message to the world. That is why every dictatorship and every totalitarian movement has first outlawed the bible and then went after the Jews. Jews and Israel are a living and unrelenting critique of injustice, cruelty and tyranny.
Why is it that the only democracy in the Middle East – Israel – is the most demonized and criticized country at the UN? It is because the majority of the countries in the UN are anti-democratic, corrupt governments who want to protect their own dictatorial, cruel and financially lucrative fiefdoms. Even when you think everything is getting better – that a new age has arrived – that humanity has ascended to new heights and its base hatreds and prejudices are behind us– think again say the Rabbis. Anti-Semitism – Haman – hatred of the Jewish people and its nation state will always be there. So be ready and be prepared. In the 1930’s the most enlightened nation in the world – Germany – elected a man and a party that would become the most barbaric regime in history and within 15 years – 70 million people were dead – amongst them six million Jews – for his goal was not just to conquer the world but to remove the teachings of the Bible and the Jews from it.
In 1947 – the world realized the depths of the horrible crime it had allowed to be perpetrated against the Jewish people and came up with a perfect solution. The conflict in Palestine between the Jews and the Arabs could be solved and the Jews could be compensated for the suffering of the Holocaust – it was a Messianic solution – a Palestinian state and a Jewish state – side by side. It would be a symbol of post WW I and II coexistence, understanding and peace. It seemed to be the Wisdom of Solomon. But for Haman there is no Messianic era that allows for the existence of the Jew – no solution to Jew hatred and the hatred of a Jewish State. The Arabs refused the UN’s Solomonic decision and five Arab nations launched what they hoped would be a genocidal destruction of the fledgling Jewish State. Their attempt at a second Holocaust in less than a decade failed. The Jews had an army this time and won the war for Independence.
Let me tell you a true story that leads me to this sad but true realization that the Rabbis were right about the eternity of anti-Semitism and hatred of the Jewish state.
There is a place at the foot of Mt. Scopus called Emek Tzurim national Park and you can participate there in an archeological work-site. Why do I call it a work site? Normally it’s called an archeological dig. But this one is different. You see the Wakf – which is the Muslim authority over the Temple Mount just above the Western Wall – was granted total control over what happens there by the Israelis. It was a good will gesture – one of those good deeds that never go unpunished. What perhaps we didn’t expect was for the Wakf to routinely made it a point to dig up any and all proof of Jewish history on the holiest of our sites and destroy it as best as they can. It’s like a reverse archeological dig. They dig to destroy evidence and history rather than to preserve and learn history. Yassir Arafat had declared in his day that there was never a Jewish Temple above the Western Wall and he and those who followed him have made it their passion and purpose to obliterate any shred of the incontrovertible evidence that the Jewish People is inextricably linked to Jerusalem and the land of Israel – that we were there centuries before there even was an Islam. So what is the Wakf doing? They decided to dig up tons of loose earth in the recesses of the Temple Mount containing rare artifacts and proof of a Jewish presence on the sites upon which the Muslim world later built the Mosque of Omar and the Dome of the Rock. They filled hundreds of trucks with this earth and dumped it all into the Kidron Valley just outside the old city. They thought that would be the end of it. But the good news is that they always underestimate Jews. The Israeli Department of Antiquities was wise to what was happening and as soon as the dumping was complete, they sent crews to collect every bit of the earth that was dumped and took it to the work site at the foot of Mt. Scopus which is under Israeli supervision. There, the team kept finding glass and pottery that was thousands of years old. They even found a Maccabean coin from the 2nd century BCE. Every cubic foot of earth revealed more and more finds as the volunteers sifted through a Jewish past that the Palestinians are doing everything to wipe out. The goal of the Palestinians is to deny that Jews were ever on the land of Israel before the modern period and then to deny our right to be there now or in the future.
Someone asked me if criticism of Israel is anti-Semitism. Not necessarily I answered. You can be a critic of Israel and not be anti-Zionist or anti-Semitic – in fact you can be a lover of Israel and still criticize her. We love America – we criticize when we think America has missed the mark. Criticism is one thing – denying her legitimacy is another. In a room filled with Brits Rabbi Jonathan Sacks asked this question – do you believe you have a right to criticize the British government? Every hand in the room went up affirming that right. Then he asked, “Who here believes that Britain has no right to exist?” No one put their hands up. Now you know the difference he said and they all agreed. Anti-Semitism means denying the right of Jews to exist as Jews with the same rights as everyone else. No nation in the United Nations other than Israel has its right to exist questioned regularly and no nation other than Israel has another member UN nations claiming its right to wipe that nation off the map – Iran’s claim towards Israel.
So do I despair of any hope for a two state solution – for an end to the conflict? Do I think that anti-Semitism in Europe cannot be stopped and reversed? Not really. I don’t despair. The life of Shimon Peres – I believe – reflects – both the despair and the hope of our people and the world. Peres was born in Poland and immigrated to Israel in 1934 with his family. Not one member of his very large extended family who remained in Poland after 1934 was still alive in 1944. He came to Israel and five Arab nations conspired to kill him and all the Jews in Palestine but he fought with the new Israeli army and beat them back. He went on to serve the State of Israel as the Defense Minister during the Suez War –as Prime Minister and as the President with incredible distinction. He was one of the architects of the Oslo agreement. Oslo was Israel’s desperate attempt at peace and we gave up a lot in that agreement. It didn’t work out and in fact led to the disastrous Intifadas that left nearly 1800 Israeli’s dead, many more thousands of Palestinians, and the chances for peace in tatters. But it showed that Israel was willing to take risks for peace. That was Peres – a man who fled Poland where they had tried to kill him – who fought to stay alive in Israel where once again they tried to kill him – but a man who talked peace – a man who would compromise for peace and who believed that it was peace and not war that was inevitable. He was the driving force behind the peace treaty with Jordan. He received the Presidential medal of freedom from President Obama for – ‘his meritorious contributions to peace’ and founded the Peres center for peace. If Peres could have hope then so must we. And there is something else – very important. Listen to what Mahmoud Abbas – Arafat’s successor as leader of the Palestinian said to John Kerry after another failed peace conference. “If I accept Israel’s right to live in peace as a Jewish state on the shores of the Mediterreanean, my people will assassinate me.” But Abbas came to Peres’s funeral. Do not underestimate that gesture. Abbas put his life at risk by attending the funeral of a former PM and President of a Jewish state. Many of his compatriots see that as an act of treason – as tantamount to recognizing the Jewish state. Sadat risked his life for peace when he came to Jerusalem and he eventually paid with his life. But he achieved peace. His grandchildren are not dying in wars with Israel. King Hussein put his life at risk when he came to the shivah homes of Israeli Jews whose loved ones were murdered by a Jordanian soldier. The King of Jordan got on his knees and begged forgiveness. Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish terrorist because of his willingness to compromise for peace. Peres – the man who believed in peace as much as any leader ever has – had the leader of the PA at his State Funeral. I don’t know what it will lead to – but it is the most positive development we have seen in a long time. How fitting would it be if Peres’s funeral became the launching pad for new peace negotiations!
So can I as a Jew not have hope? Our national anthem is Hatikvah – the hope – the most frequent prayer in this huge prayer book is for peace. So yes – have hope – that is what a Jew always has – but never ever let your guard down – never forget that Haman is always lurking – waiting to make his move. Hope – how can I not have hope – in 1990 Pope John Paul endorsed a statement that branded anti-Semitism as a “sin against God and humanity” and said that the church must repent for the anti-Semitism that had found a place in Catholic thought and behavior. Peres – who had to flee an anti-Semitic Catholic Poland in 1934 lived to see a Polish Pope condemn that anti-Semitism and implicitly accept partial responsibility for the Holocaust. How could he not have hope – how could we not. Peres saw signs of hope but also saw signs of Haman when he looked to the east and saw Iran. He knew that the Haman of ancient Persia had arisen once again in the modern Persia called Iran. King Achasheverosh came to realize that Haman was a real danger to him and not the Jews – Mordechai and Esther showed him that. The kings of Saudi Arabia; Kuwait; United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan and other Sunni Arab countries are starting to realize that the Jews are not their enemies – the Ayatollahs – the Hamans of Iran are their enemies. The Mordechai who helped them learn that lesson was Shimon Peres. That is why Abbas went to his funeral – that is why the Ambassador to the UN from Kuwait for the first time in history didn’t walk out when the Israeli PM stood up to speak at the UN general assembly.
Another bright spot remains America – the leader of the free world and the only super power in the world. We are in shock to see the anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism on our Campuses. We didn’t expect that because America has been for us as close a Messianic experience as any Diaspora community ever has. We were caught by surprise that this could happen in America. But the good news is that with all the anti-Israel efforts on the college campuses 75% of all Americans still remain committed to Israel – still see Israel’s cause as just and true. We can’t stop fighting the battle – it is an eternal battle – we must remain ever vigilant – but we can take heart that we are having many victories against BDS and anti-Semitism throughout the University world which is ground zero in America for anti-Israel and anti-Semitic activity.
In the 50’s and 60’s a world embarrassed by the Holocaust and what centuries of anti-Semitism had led to – made Israel the darling of the non-Arab world. Anti-Semitism still existed in America but it had become socially unacceptable. It went underground and we thought it had vanished. The Soviet Union collapsed and 1 million Soviet Jews made aliyah – the largest Exodus of Jews from persecution in all of Jewish history. The Catholic Church acknowledged its failures during the Holocaust and a Pope – the great John Paul II – for the first time entered a synagogue and traveled to the Jewish state. Then the Vatican officially recognized the Jewish state. We thought the world had changed – that human nature had changed. It was like a Messianic period – the rise of the new Jewish state – the end of anti-Semitism and a change in attitude in most of the world. But we forgot the Rabbis teaching that even when the Messiah comes you need to observe Purim – watch out for the Hamans of the world. Look where we are now. ISIS is crucifying people – killing thousands of civilians in horrific ways, capturing young women and turning them into sex slaves known as ‘wives’ for their young warriors. What does the world do? The UN Human rights commission – a non-sequitur if there ever was one – releases its report – overwhelmingly accepted – that condemns Israel’s action in the Gaza war as potential war crimes! Not a word about ISIS – not a word about the slaughter of civilians in Syria. The selective choice of Israel for all negative resolutions – and the virtual silence in the face of the abuse of every kind of human rights in the rest of the world is as definitive an example of the return of anti-Semitism to the international scene as there is. Women are being trafficked in sex all over the world – gays and lesbians are persecuted and even executed throughout the Moslem world and Christians are becoming an endangered species in the Mid-East but the only demonstrations on our college campuses are against Israel who they call an apartheid state bent on genocide against the Palestinian people. George Orwell couldn’t have ever anticipated this type of delusion and distortion. Demonstrations against Israel – but none against Syria – prove that justice is not at the heart of the demonstrations – it’s the age old Haman hatred of Israel and Jews that motivates these demonstrators.
The Olympics is the most important and visible international event. This year it was in Brazil. It happened that Israeli athletes were assigned to a bus that also had Lebanese Olympiads on it – whoever did that must have also thought that the Messianic era had arrived. What happened? The Lebanese refused to let the Israelis on the bus. This is the Olympics – it’s 2016 – the cell phones those Lebanese athletes were using exist today because of Israel – and many of the life saving medication their relatives are taking were made possible by Israelis – yet Israeli Jews are not allowed on the bus. An Israeli on the Judo team defeats an Egyptian Olympiad on his way to winning a Bronze medal and the much larger Egyptian refused to shake the Israeli’s hand. Another Arab contestant forfeits a match because he knew his next opponent would be an Israeli. With all the problems in the world – with all the hotspots and wars and abuses around the world why at the Olympics is it always Israel and Jews who are the focus of insulting or even murderous events? Anti-Semitism –anti Zionism is here to stay say the Rabbis. There will be a Haman in every generation and a group that will try and utterly destroy us from the face of the earth. The Rabbis are right. Purim is the eternal holiday because anti-Semitism is the eternal reality. When the Palestinians stop speaking of Tel Aviv and Haifa as occupied territory – when they are ready to live side by side with a Jewish state there will be a resolution to the conflict. When dictatorships and tyrannical governments are confronted and overthrown then anti-Semitism will be lessened. It’s a simple truth – the growth of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism coincides with the growth of anti-Democratic forces and the empowerment of dictators by a weak and cowering west. Jews are the canary in the mine. When Jews and Israel are under attack the free world had better take notice – because it’s way of life, its institutions, its women, its gays its lovers of freedom will be next in the crosshairs of the Hamans of the world. Terrorism started in Israel. The world didn’t respond. Then it spread to America, France, England, Brussels Germany and other countries and the world is suddenly understanding that first they come after the Jews – then they come after all those who they view as ‘others’.
How did we beat Haman that first time around? You remember the story – It was the love and friendship of Esther and Mordechai to the King of Persia. That’s was saved us – we cultivated friendship with the Powers to be. Mordechai showed his loyalty to the king by saving him from an assassination plot and Esther showed that she loved him. The good news is that we have indeed cultivated many, many good friends. Was there anyone ever better at cultivating friends for Israel all around the world then Shimon Peres? He was one of the Mordechais of the latter half of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st. In America we have shown love and respect for this country that took the Jews in and let us be citizens and equals. We have gained many friends around the world for there are significant pockets of truth and goodness in the world. The crowd at the Olympics booed when the Egyptian refused to shake the hand of the Israeli athlete. The Olympic committee summoned the Lebanese team and publicly dressed them down for their nasty behavior towards the Israelis and warned them that next time they will be sent home. America signed a ten year agreement guaranteeing quantitative and qualitative military superiority for Israel – sending a clear message to Israel’s enemies who still think she can be beaten and destroyed. A ten year agreement. The message was clear – don’t mistake a spat or a personality conflict amongst Israeli and American leaders for a lack of support for Israel on the part of the USA. Obama went to Peres’s funeral – a clear statement of the eternal friendship of the American people for Israel. We are getting assistance from States and Cities and alumni of Universities in our battles against – Boycott, Divest and Sanctions – meant to cripple Israel’s economy and isolate her from the world. But in Europe we have democratic nations who are so cowed by the Muslim presence in their nations that they are afraid to stand up for what is right. If they don’t soon – their Jews will leave and those European countries will go the way of nations like Spain who never recovered from sending its Jews away. If Europe lets herself be dragged down that road of Jew hatred again – if it allows an atmosphere where Jews are afraid to go to their synagogues – where they need armed guards at their institutions and schools it will be the end of Europe. The Jews will leave and then the Muslims there will go for the Christians, then for the gays, then for the atheists – until there will be nothing left of Europe’s soul but a fading memory.
We need to educate our children to fight the battle against the anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism on the campuses – support AIPAC’s work on Capitol Hill which through friendship and education develops bipartisan support for Israel in the Congress and the Senate – which in turn leads to billions of dollars of military aide and constant support at the United Nations. Both political parties have platforms of strong support for Israel and the American people as a whole have only one issue that they support by a majority of over 70% and that is Israel. So when you see anti-Semitism raising its ugly head in Europe again – when you hear of courses offered in our Universities that teach that Israel is an illegitimate state – remember what our Rabbis taught us over 2000 years ago – that is the norm – anti-Semitism and hatred for a Jewish state on the Jewish homeland are the constants in history – they will be there even when we think the world is close to redemption – even when the world seems more enlightened then ever – they will be there even when the Messiah comes. But the good news is – in the end –Esther was Queen and Mordechai was Viceroy and – layehudim Hay’tah Orah v’Simcha – and to the Jews there was light and happiness. Maybe that in the end is what the Messianic age is – the anti-Semitism is still there – the Anti-Zionists are still there – but we come out victorious and secure in spite of it all. One more lesson from the late Shimon Peres. Did you know who the driving force was behind the creation of a place in Israel called Dimona? Dimona is the place where Israel’s nuclear weapons program is but we’re not supposed to admit that we actually have such a program. The driving force was Shimon Peres – the very same man who spent much of his later life seeking a peaceful solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. But it’s not an irony – Peres knew the lesson of Purim. Do everything you can for peace – but always be ready for Haman. And he knew this verse from the Book of Pslams in our Bible – God will give strength to his people and in that way he will bless His people with Peace.
It’s a simple truth – if Haman knows you are better prepared than even he is – that you are more powerful than he is – that you have your own strength and the strength of the United States behind you– then peaceful coexistence is possible. If we remember the lesson of Purim then 5777 will be a year of joy and triumph for our people and may the world learn this lesson – what happens to the Jews is in the final analysis the fate of the whole world.