Another slew of headlines about the problems we face with anti-Semitism in this country.
‘BBC debate descends into shambles over ‘anti-Semitic’ Imam’.
‘Labour provokes fury by promoting ex-MP Jim Sheridan, who said Jews worked with ‘Blairite plotters’.
‘Tonge blames Israel for Jew-hate… during debate on antisemitism’.
Are we surprised? Are we shocked?
Maybe part of the problem is that we are just used to it, what can we do? There is hatred for Jews and Israel on the political left, that is the reality we now live with both here and in the USA.
However, the last headline is the most remarkable. This week the House of Lords devoted a session to discuss anti-Semitism and up steps Jenny Tonge to blame us for the rise is anti-Semitism! You couldn’t make it up.
But it does beg the question why? How can an anti-racist be an anti-Semite? And surely we just need to provide them with the facts, to explain to them that Israel is not a racist state, that Jews don’t control the world’s finance etc.
Thirty minutes earlier in the debate Lord Finkelstein decided to try answer that question – and he did so brilliantly. And it links remarkably to a Rav Soloveitchik idea on this week’s parsha!
We start with Lord Finkelstein’s words:
‘I will start with one of the most interesting books I have read this year, The Communist Party of Great Britain: A Historical Analysis to 1941. Published in 1995, it was written by Andrew Murray, one of the closest friends and advisers of the leader of the Opposition. Mr Murray defended the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and described the fall of the Berlin Wall as an, “historic setback for human progress”.
This was not the end to the illumination that his book provided. The most useful parts were those that explained the centrality to his thinking of Lenin’s theory of imperialism. This genuinely opened the door to me: I felt that I finally understood the mystery that I had been puzzling over. I have so many wonderful, lovely progressive friends, and great admiration for Labour Members of this House. I know that, like me, they puzzle over how so many progressive, compassionate, humane people can be prey to anti-Semitism.
I think I do get it now—at least a little bit—and, necessarily briefly, I will share it with the House. Lenin argued that capitalism is economically sustainable only because companies seek profits abroad. They then need Governments to protect their foreign investments through military adventure. So imperialism protects capitalism, and to bring down capitalism you have to bring down imperialism. So anti-colonial resistance movements—Iran, Chávez, Hezbollah—are the core of the anti-capitalist movement. Why does this lend itself to anti-Semitism? First, because anti-imperialists such as JA Hobson have always seen Jews as the owners of finance houses on whose behalf racist imperialism is conducted. In other words, these particular anti-imperialists are anti-racists who blame Jews for racism. This is an explanation of the mystery of how people who claim that they are anti-racist can in fact be anti-Semitic. It is the Jews’ fault!
Secondly, anti-imperialists now see the great world empire as the United States, see the Middle East as the centre of this empire and see Israel and Zionism—the Jews, in other words—as the great creators and symbol of this imperialism. In other words, left anti-Semitism is not a few stray tweets and a gaffe or two. Nor does it belong to all members of the Labour Party. It is a system of thought that belongs to a strand of progressive thinking which can only be eradicated by challenging the central tenets of that thinking.’
A few facts will not do it.
They are beyond changing – unless you completely rid them of their warped ideology, nothing less will do, and when they have been ideologues for decades – forget it, it is not going to happen.
Enter Rav Soloveitchik.
Behalotcha is the parsha of what if.
What is the context? As the Bnei Yisrael we are nearing our goal, we have received the Torah, the Mishkan has been constructed, it is time for the glorious march to Eretz Yisrael!
If we look at the parsha, that is certainly how it starts. We begin with Aharon and the menorah then sanctifying the Leviim. Next comes the celebration of Exodus and the laws of Pesach Sheni. Then the laws of travelling are told and the final law of the chatzozerot – the trumpets, then we are told the camp layout and we are ready to begin!
And in Chapter 10, verse 28 – ‘Vayisau mehar Hashem’ They journeyed from the mountain of God’.
The Triumphal march is about to begin.
However, then comes the famous verses ‘Vayehi Binsoa Aharon’. Two verses surrounded by upside down letter nuns – very strange.
As we all know – we didn’t enter, we began 40 years of wandering – but that is next week’s parsha, but the roots of our downfall are right here. We began to complain about the food, and the people began weeping.
Then comes one of the most tragic speeches in the Torah from Moshe to Hashem. ‘Why have You treated Your servant so badly? Why have I not found favour in Your eyes that You place the burden of this entire people upon me? Did I conceive this entire people? Did I give birth to them, that You say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom as the nurse carries the suckling,’ to the Land You promised their forefathers? Where can I get meat to give all these people? For they are crying on me, saying, ‘Give us meat to eat.’ Alone I cannot carry this entire people for it is too hard for me. If this is the way You treat me, please kill me if I have found favour in Your eyes, so that I not see my misfortune.’
Moshe is suicidal!
How can this be? Just a few parshiot ago at the Golden Calf he was pleading for them, fighting for them – here he has just given up on them.
Rav Soloveitchik explains Moshe’s transformation.
Moshe believed that at the Golden Calf they were still a new people, still influenced by Egypt, they didn’t fully understand how to worship Hashem, that is why they got it so wrong, but once they got the Torah, that would sort them out.
However, now he sees a deep seated problem, we have not changed and we are not going to, there is so far to go. Moshe realises this is not a quick fix, this is going to take years. It can’t be done – he faced reality, he had run out of excuses.
Next week’s parsha of the eventual decree of 40 years wandering was already realised by Moshe here in Behalotcha. It will take a new generation to make that journey to Israel.
Sometimes we have to realise that things are too far entrenched for change to happen, whether that is the generation who left Egypt or the current left wing ideologues hell bent on demonising Israel and Jews – it is not a quick fix, it will take years, or it will take a new generation.
Now we can understand the two famous verses, and the inverted letter nuns, they were part of the book of the Torah that was never written! The Seforno explains that these are the verses that Moshe said upon entering the land! Of course, we know that he never did!
How shocking, those two verses are the first and last verse of the book that was to be written if they had entered then – a damning indictment of the Jewish people.
Yet even when we deviate we are reminded of the mission, that there is an entire ‘book’ telling us the unfinished story and encouraging us to complete it.
Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel in Gemara Shabbat tells us that ‘In the future this section will be removed from here and written in its proper place ….at our final redemption’.
Moshe was correct, this was proper place, but we were not ready.
Today we are closer than we have been in the last 2000 years and our enemies are strengthening to halt that return, halt that redemption.
We need to use Behalotcha to remind ourselves of our eternal mission that we must complete and a realisation that we must be as dedicated to our redemption as our enemies are to our destruction.