Intermountain Jewish News

Banner
Wednesday,
Mar 04th
Home Columns View from Denver Anti-Semitism: the compliment vice pays to virtue

Anti-Semitism: the compliment vice pays to virtue

E-mail Print PDF

QUITE apart from the evil of anti-Semitism — the incessant murder of Jews, or prejudice against them — is it not odd that one people throughout history has been picked on in this way?

And is this not doubly odd, given that the Jews see themselves as the chosen people?

Netziv (1816-1892) addresses this paradox in this week’s Torah portion. In so doing, he identifies the the basic cause of anti-Semitism, as well as its ultimate failure.

We may move into Netziv’s explanation with a series of questions:

What is more likely to earn your admiration: A person who inherits millions and turns them into billions (the late Marvin Davis, for instance); or a person who grew up in modest circumstances and founded a multi-billion dollar company (Steve Jobs, for instance)?

What is more likely to surprise you: A person who grew up in the highest diplomatic and political echelons, and became president of the US (JFK, for instance); or a person not born into privilege who became a female head of state (Golda Meir, for instance)?

What is more likely to catch your attention: A person who trained day and night, sacrificing every comfort and social interaction, to become an Olympic gold medalist; or an amputee who also won a gold medal (albeit not in the regular Olympics), running the race on one artificial leg?

What is more likely to confirm your expectation: A Harvard graduate, summa cum laude, who wrote a book that changed the world (The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, by Thomas Kuhn) — a parallel achievement: a person whose father was a major scholar whose son revolutionized Talmudic study (Chaim Soloveitchik, for instance) — or a sports writer who wrote a book that sold millions of copies and deeply affected millions of people (Tuesdays with Morrie, by Mitch Albom, for instance)?

As great as the people in the first half of the questions are, the people mentioned in the second half of the questions trump them in terms of the human “wow” response. Something that goes against the grain elicits a greater human response.

ANTI-Semitism, writes Netziv, is the response to the unexpected.

Anti-Semitism may begin as a struggle over land, and Jews lost their land in antiquity twice, but it was not this that defines anti-Semitism in its harshest, most persistent form. Once the ancient Babylonians and Romans removed the Jews from Canaan and took over the land, these persecutors retained little interest in the Jews. The persistent anti-Semitism is that in the Jewish exile.

It persists as a response to the unexpected: the Jewish claim that the Jews are especially blessed by G-d, that they are the chosen people. Even exiled from their land, the Jews flourish intrinsically, and make enormous contributions to the cultures in which they live.

What elicits a greater human response: A nation that flourishes without obstacles, or a nation that suffers from unspeakable defeats, yet finds a way to flourish? The latter — the Jewish people.

A successful nation that has little or nothing to overcome in order to be successful may be compared to the persons in the first half of the questions above. You inherit millions. You turn them into billions. Surely an unusual accomplishment, but not nearly so notable as the accomplishment of Steve Jobs.

Jews have won Nobel Prizes far out of proportion to the their numbers. The contributions of the Jewish people are analogous to Steve Jobs’ contribution. Anti-Semitism is the compliment that vice pays to virtue. Jews are acknowledged as the blessed of G-d precisely because they are persecuted. Were the Jews able to achieve great things living in comfort and peace, never persecuted, they would hardly be noticed. Anti-Semitism is the evidence for the Divine Providence over the Jewish nation.

NETZIV sees all this in a verse or two in this week’s Torah portion.

“Your seed shall be like the dust of the earth . . . ” (Genesis 28:14).

Netziv observes: This cannot mean that the descendants of Jacob will multiply uncountably, since that blessing was already given to the descendants of Jacob’s grandfather Abraham in Gen. 15:5.

Rather, to be like the dust of the earth means that the seed of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs — the Jewish people — will be like dust. Lowly. Conquered. Dirt. Yet, the same verse concludes:

“ . . . and you shall break out westward, eastward, northward and southward, and all the families of the earth shall be blessed through you, and through your seed.”

No matter how cruelly the nations in the exile trample the Jewish people, the Jews shall flourish in every direction, and by doing so bless the nations of the earth. Anti-Semitism creates the paradoxical condition out of which Jews make seminal contributions and, even more important, through which Divine Providence is manifest.

Which nation will appear most amazing, the one blessed with natural resources and peace, such as Switzerland; or the one blessed with little resources and a cruel fate, yet consistently successful in countless arenas over the millennia, such as the Jewish people?

Anti-Semitism both causes the Jews’ problems and highlights their achievements and chosenness.

Copyright © 2013 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Last Updated ( Thursday, 07 November 2013 02:31 )  

IJN e-Edition

This is only a taste! Get full access to the IJN via our e-Edition, only $14.04 for IJN Print subscribers.

E-Edition subscribers get access to a complete digital replica of the IJN, which includes all special sections.

Get the IJN's free newsletter!

Cast Your Vote

What prevents you from being more involved in Jewish institutions?
 

Shabbat Times

JTA News

Isaac Herzog hopes to speak softly and carry Israel’s election

Ben Sales The leading contender to unseat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on March 17, Isaac Herzog represents a change not just in substance, but in style. ... [Link]

Obama: Netanyahu said ‘nothing new’ and offers ‘no viable alternative’

Marcy Oster If no deal is signed then “Iran will immediately begin once again pursuing its nuclear program, accelerate its nuclear program, without us having any insight into what they’re doing, and witho... [Link]

U.N. envoy calls for investigation into civilian Gaza deaths

Marcy Oster Makarim Wibisono recently took over as the special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories. ... [Link]

How Netanyahu’s speech played in Israel

Ben Sales Israeli reactions to the speech focused on one question: What does this mean for the ballot box? ... [Link]

Israel tells Argentina that it is responsible for embassy bombing investigation

Marcy Oster The statement was in response to an accusation made by Argentina’s President Christina Fernandez de Kircher, who rebuked Israel for not working to bring the perpetrators of the 1992 bombing of i... [Link]

Former Sen. Danforth decries use of anti-Semitism in Missouri campaign

Marcy Oster Danforth spoke at the memorial service for Tom Schweich, a Republican candidate for governor, who killed himself after telling journalists that a fellow party member was leading a whisper campaign say... [Link]

Maybe Bibi is the orator (and Pelosi is the mansplainer?)

Ami Eden In the end, did the Obama administration ensure Netanyahu a big audience? ... [Link]

British watchdog bans Israeli tourism ad over Jerusalem photos

Marcy Oster Britain’s Advertising Standards Authority ruled that a tourism ad misleading since it implies that the Old City of Jerusalem is part of Israel. ... [Link]

Intermountain Jewish News • 1177 Grant Street • Denver, CO 80203 • 303 861 2234 • FAX 303 832 6942
email@ijn.com • larry@ijn.com • lori@ijn.com