Parashat Vayigash 5780
by Meir Sendor
As this week’s parashah opens, Yehudah steps up to Yosef, who he thinks is a powerful, antagonistic Egyptian noble, to defend his youngest brother Binyamin against a false charge of theft. The situation seems hopeless, but Yehudah starts talking anyway, and offers himself for punishment in place of Binyamin, saying of himself:
בראשית פרק מד פסוק לב
כי עבדך ערב את הנער מעם אבי לאמר אם לא אביאנו אליך וחטאתי לאבי כל הימים:
For your servant is responsible for the young man to my father, [to whom I pledged] saying ‘if I do not bring him back to you I will have sinned before you, my father, for all time.’
Rashi comments that Yehudah has pledged himself to be liable on behalf of Binyamin “for all time,” meaning “in this world and the world to come.” Rabbi Avraham Bornstein of Sokachov notes that Yehudah has made himself completely and eternally responsible for Binyamin, even for unforeseen misfortunes such as this, and asks how Yehudah could take on such responsibility for circumstances beyond his control. He answers:
There is in a human being hidden powers, that he himself doesn’t usually realize. When these powers are aroused and strengthened a person can sometimes accomplish more than he ever imagined he could. (Ne’ot Deshe).
There was a shining example this last week of someone acting with powers beyond what he imagined he had, when Yosef Gluck stood up to defend others in the terrible anti-Semitic attack in Monsey, New York. A large, powerfully-built man broke into a hassidic Hanukkah gathering swinging a machete and wounding five people, two critically. Yosef sprang into action, helping several people escape out a back door, then returning and throwing a weighty marble-top table at the attacker’s head. The attacker turned to chase him, and Yosef led him outside. When the attacker could not get to him or get into the Shul next door, which was full of people but on lock-down, and drove off, Yosef had the presence of mind to write down the license plate and identify the make and color of the car. The perpetrator was found by police two hours later in Harlem, still covered in the blood of his victims, and has been arrested. Yosef Gluck risked his life to take responsibility to save others, and modestly acknowledged he surprised himself.
The rising tide of hatred and violence directed against Jews in the U.S. and Europe today is alarming. The causal nexus is not so mysterious – the bloody fingerprints are pretty clear. The violent tribalism endemic to some Middle Eastern societies and cultures has been focused against Israel by and on behalf of the Palestinians for decades. The Western political left, which used to espouse peaceful protest, restrained civil disobedience and dialogue to address grievances, has been influenced by the influx of academics and activists from authoritarian, tribal Middle Eastern cultures that condone blatant intimidation and violence to impose their opinions. This justification of physical and verbal violence and mendacious propaganda for political ends, specifically for the sake of the Palestinian cause, has infected a generation of college students, journalists and politicians and is invading Western media and culture at-large. It has created a toxic rhetorical environment, accelerated and inflamed by social media, that draws in other groups and those of weak mind and poor impulse control with their own perceived grievances. This is different than the Christian antisemitism of previous centuries, and to lump it with antisemitism or mere religious or ethnic discrimination misses what’s going on, confuses the issue and makes it harder to address. This is a form of directed tribal warfare, the dark side of identity politics. While identity politics may provide the theoretical scaffolding that is fracturing rather than healing Western societies, it’s the way leftist theory has been appropriated by some Middle Eastern activists, joined with a justification of violence and bullying and given a prominent media platform, that has created an atmosphere of murderous hatred specifically directed against Jews.
If this is directed warfare rather than discrimination, it requires a more vigorous, focused response than merely politely appealing for religious or ethnic tolerance. That Jewish communities in the U.S. should start to look like the embattled synagogues of Europe with congregants cowering behind hired armed-guards would signal defeat. It’s refreshing to see Yosef Gluck and other members of his congregation protecting each other by forcefully combatting the assailant. Despite the victim culture currently popular in the States, we Jews should not let ourselves be victimize-able. We should not hide or whine but rise up and articulate clearly and convincingly the righteousness of our cause: that we belong in our homeland, the Land of Israel; that we are committed to cultivating ethical communities guided by Torah wisdom and values in Israel and around the world; and that the misery of the Palestinians is self-imposed, a consequence of their stubborn choice of violence and terrorism instead of peaceful coexistence. It’s time to take active responsibility to refute propaganda and draw attention to incitement to violence wherever and whenever it occurs, supporting and expanding organizations such as CAMERA and Honest Reporting that combat propaganda against Jews and Israel. It requires waking up the woke Left to realize they have been infected with a terrible virus of violence and misled by lies and deceptive tactics. The Jewish community in the U.S., with assistance from Israel, needs to up its game considerably. We may be vastly outnumbered and the political currents against us may be strong, but we are Jews, Yehudim, descendants of Yehudah, who stand up and step forward and take responsibility for each other, and find within ourselves God-given strength we don’t yet know we have.