S P E C I A L S

For the week ending 25 April 2009 / 30 Nisan 5769

Independence and Survival

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
The Color of HeavenArtscroll
  • Israel Independence Day
  • Durban II
  • Holocaust Remembrance Day

What do all of them have in common?

The survival of the Jewish People!

As Israel celebrates its 61st birthday as the renewed homeland of the Jewish People, there is an urgent need to do some serious soul-searching as to whether the creation of a modern Jewish state has guaranteed the survival of the Jewish People.

If anyone needed a reminder that the hatred towards Jews that led to a Holocaust claiming the lives of six million Jews is still very much a threat to our survival, one event that took place a week before Independence Day certainly did the job.

On the very day that Jews in Israel and elsewhere were identifying with the victims of Hitler's "final solution to the Jewish problem", a modern-day Hitler, who has become infamous as the world's most prominent Holocaust denier, was the main speaker at the Durban II Conference on Racism in Geneva.

The fact that so few of the nations invited to this Conference boycotted it was a sad indication that most of the world still harbors enough latent anti-Semitism to honor a Holocaust denier who brazenly declares his intention to "wipe the Jewish state off the map of the world".

What is the source of this hatred of Jews in its virulent Nazi-Iranian form or its more subtle form in the countries who collaborated with Hitler's murderers and those who collaborate through their silence with his Iranian successor?

Our Talmudic Sages tell us why the mountain on which the Torah was given, an event which will be celebrated on Shavuot in a few weeks from now, was called Sinai. The Hebrew word for hatred is “sinah”, and it was what took place on that mountain which brought the sinah – hatred of Jews – to the world.

An insightful interpretation of this was offered by one of the Holocaust's most famous victims, Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman, may G-d avenge his blood, the rosh hayeshiva of Yeshivat Baranovitch in Lithuania. When Jews committed themselves to receiving and observing the Torah, they were given a message that there was no copping out of that responsibility. They had two choices in surviving as a nation – Sinai or sinah. Sinai meant loyalty to the commitment made at that mountain which would deserve Divine protection and guarantee physical survival. Sinah shown to Jews trying to assimilate by their unwelcoming non-Jewish neighbors would remind them that they could not hope to survive by fleeing from their faith.

This is why assimilation in all its forms has been a failure throughout history. Even when Jews attempted to dress, talk and act like non-Jews they never succeeded because "you can change your Moses but you can't change your noses."

Which brings us back to Independence Day. Of course we are profoundly thankful to Heaven for giving us the opportunity of a Jewish state that is the pride of Jews throughout the world and a haven for those living in its borders. But the threats from Iran and the international pressures for a perilous proposal for settling the conflict with the Arab world remind us that a Jewish state is simply not enough to guarantee Jewish survival. Only a full-fledged return to Sinai can eliminate the need for sinah and ensure our spiritual and physical survival.

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