I went back to the future this week.
This time 25 years ago, I was elected as the National Education Coordinator of UJS, it was a wonderful year and that position, educating Jewish students, cemented in my mind my desire to becoming a Rabbi.
This past week, 25 years later, I was proud to be a part of the joint UJS/NUS initiative taking various student sabbatical officers to Auschwitz with the Holocaust Education Trust.
I have been the Rabbi on these trips many times before – as I have written. However, this trip was different.
Normally we take 6th formers from across the country. This time it was student political leaders, some of whom were very much influenced by the anti-Israel sentiments and the BDS world they inhabit on various campuses and in NUS.
The main role of the Rabbi on these trips, is to lead the service at the end of the day and share some words with the participants.
I didn’t change what I normally said, and as reported by the JC: ‘Rabbi Shaw issued a stern warning about failing to stand up to rising hatred and intolerance – while defending Israel against ever increasingly criticism.’
What I said in terms of Israel was that: a) survivors tell me that thank G-d we now have Israel as a safe haven and b) My Grandma, a survivor cried at the declaration in 1948 and prayed that one day her family would live there.
Nothing too controversial, or so I thought.
However later on I found that some people (the vast majority were fine with it) were upset with what I had said about Israel! I was not surprised!
In the article, The JC reported that during the pre-meeting on the Sunday, ‘At least one student representative mentioned concerns they have over Israel’s “ethnic cleansing” in Gaza.’
The vilification of Israel from the far left is now all too common. With the Airbnb discriminatory decision this week we can see the continued hypocrisy from the BDS brigade. Last week I met a few of them. It seems the new danger is not just from the far right but a strong and vocal far left, which has mainstream voices.
The idea of new enemies of our people can be found in the Parasha in a remarkable idea from Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch.
At the start of the Parasha we have the encounter of Yaacov with the Angel. Chazal informs us that the angel is in fact the guardian angel of Esav.
However, if we look at the Pesukim we can see something strange (32:27-30)
And he (the angel) said, “Let me go, for dawn is breaking,” but he (Yaacov) said, “I will not let you go unless you have blessed me.”
So he said to him, “What is your name?” and he said, “Yaacov.”
And he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Yaacov, but Yisrael, because you have commanding power with [an angel of] God and with men, and you have prevailed.”
And Yaacov asked and said, “Now tell me your name,” and he said, “Why is it that you ask for my name?” And he blessed him there.
The first part of the exchange is understandable; the angel is asking Yaacov his name to then
change it. However, why does Yaacov need to know the name of the angel? Furthermore, why can’t the angel tell him?
Most commentators (Rashi, Ramban etc.) explain the concept that angels have no set names and that their names are dependent on the current mission on which they are being sent.
That answer doesn’t fully suffice as according to most opinions, the angle DID have a name for that mission, it was Sama-el, the arch angel of Esav.
The beginning of an answer comes from the Rosh Yeshiva of Telshe, Rav Keller. He says that the angel of Esav actually has a mission for all time, to endanger and attempt to damage the Jewish people.
Rav Hirsch then continues the answer by explaining that the word for name is ‘Shem’ which is like ‘Sham’ meaning ‘a place’, he continues to explain that a name actually defines an object and tells us its essence.
Therefore, what is Yaacov asking? What is your essence? I want to tell my children and grandchildren, how to deal with you, what will be the nature of the fight? Who will their enemy be?
What was the angels answer? I can’t tell you because my ‘name’ always changes. In some generations it will be Hellenism, in others communism or materialism, his essence keeps changing, it is always a different fight.
However, there is another ‘name’ that has now come to the fore that is damaging and attacking us, liberalism.
It used to be something we could applaud, a wonderful political and moral philosophy based on liberty and equality. However, over the last few years it has morphed into a hatred of many of the things we hold dear, especially the concept of our return to our ancestral homeland.
As Melanie Phillips correctly pointed out ‘According to the liberal left, the Arabs (like Hamas or Hizbullah), who want to wipe out Israel are regarded falsely and grotesquely as the victims of the Jews. As a result, western anti-Semites are once again licensed to treat Jews with disgust.
Labour’s current antisemitism problem is rooted in bigotry over Israel that has become the default position of mainstream progressive politics.’
Esav’s angel’s name for the 21st century is clear. We now must make sure we have the tools to fight back. Yes, we may, like Yaacov before us, emerge limping but we will prevail.
The existence of the state of Israel demonstrates that!
P.S Appropriate to this topic, this Sunday Alei Tzion are hosting Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky, Rosh Yeshiva of Shappell’s and Midreshet Rachel v’Chaya, for a post-Shacharit breakfast shiur. Rabbi Karlinsky will be addressing the topic of “Religious Zionism in a post Zionist era”.
Religious Zionism has based itself on Torah and Rabbinic sources, with the belief that the State of Israel should be viewed as a step in the redemptive process. Biblical prophecies were fulfilled with the return of the Jewish people to the land of Israel, agricultural flourishing of that land, and the ingathering of the exiles. But recent developments in the State of Israel have raised questions about the future direction of the redemptive process: Israel is the Torah center of the world, while Israeli secularism has never been stronger; the conflict between Jew and Arab over the Land of Israel seems never-ending and insoluble; many in the Zionist establishment are proclaiming that “Zionism is dead;” and thousands of Jews have been uprooted from homes their homes within the land of Israel. We will examine sources that foretell many of the tensions and conflicts, successes and failures that we are witnessing today, and give some new insights into in the redemptive process as the Jewish people return to its homeland.
I recommend this shiur highly as it gets to the heart of our ideology.