For much of our long sojourn in exile, we didn’t need any reminders.
As we wandered from country to country, facing relentless persecution wherever we went, we were forcibly reminded of our unique mission on a daily basis. There were streets — or entire neighborhoods, or even cities — where a Jew who dared enter was brutally beaten. For centuries, Jews were barred from engaging in many trades, and were often terribly mistreated by local landowners.
In a sense, it was a blessing in disguise. For again and again in the course of history, whenever we grew too comfortable in our surroundings and forgot we were Jews in exile, we were tragically reminded of our mission through expulsions and other national tragedies.
An essential part of our mission — to the greatest extent possible — consists of humility and subjugation toward the other nations, even toward our oppressors.
The Seforno in Parashas Vayishlach teaches that it was the fact that Yaakov Avinu humiliated himself by bowing before Esav that turned his archenemy — albeit temporarily — into a peaceful brother. He adds that if this approach would have been adopted by the Biryonim instead of fighting against the Romans, the second Beis Hamikdash would not have been destroyed.
Only when there is absolutely no other recourse must we take an approach of confrontation — and even then we must remember that we are Jews in exile.
A Jew in exile has both an opportunity and an obligation to speak up — in the appropriate manner — when he feels that Jewish lives are in danger anywhere in the world. We are privileged to live in a medinah shel chessed, a democracy that gives us both Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Speech, and it is perfectly appropriate and necessary to express concern, even angst, over policies of the American government. However, we must still never forget that both the Jews in the Diaspora and the Jews living in Eretz Yisrael are very much in exile, and any distraction from this fact puts us all in grave danger.
In recent days there has been much discussion about the decision of the Israeli Prime Minister to address the American Congress.
In private conversations, three respected Rabbanim stressed to me that the Israeli premier’s decision to choose direct confrontation with the American president by delivering his address in this venue was the polar opposite of our mission as Jews in exile, and therefore a grave mistake.
Some have argued that the looming threat from Iran is so frightening, that this speech was part of an appropriate hishtadlus. Indeed, a fourth Rav with whom I discussed the matter declined to take a definitive position, as he felt he could not rule out this possibility.
However, even if one would take the position that the speech and location were appropriate, such an address should have been delivered as befitting a Jew in exile. It should have had a tone of humility instead of what some felt was open condescension to those who disagree with him. It should have been begging for mercy instead of lecturing.
Most importantly, the prime minister’s declaration during his speech that now the Jewish people can defend themselves on their own is an extremely dangerous phenomenon.
His words were, of course, a denial of reality. It is absurd for a government that was unable to prevent Jews from being massacred as they davened in a shul in Yerushalayim, and can’t even provide secure passage for those who want to visit their parents’ kevarim on Har Hazeisim, to think that it can, on its own, counter the threat of a nuclear Iran.
But what is more frightening is that, as every Torah Jew knows, words of kefirah, expressions of kochi v’otzem yadi, create a danger far greater than any posed by the most fearsome physical enemy.
As every true student of Tanach is aware, it is only when our people suffered from spiritual weakness that our physical enemies were able to harm us. Furthermore, any harm done to the physical part of a mortal being pales in comparison to the damage done to the eternal Jewish soul.
It would be the ultimate hypocrisy for a speech based on kochi v’otzem yadi to be considered an appropriate hishtadlus. As every Torah Jew realizes, the primary response to the danger posed by Iran must be a strengthening of our emunah and a total reliance on Hashem, and only Hashem.
I can imagine the question in the minds of some readers: What do you expect from a secular leader, one whose government has been the most hostile to Torah Jewry since the founding of the state?
Indeed, I don’t expect anything better from a prime minister whose viewpoint on most matters is at odds with our hashkafah.
Rather, it is we Torah-believing Jews who must be on guard, and not allow deeply rooted and very valid concerns about the policies of an American president to blind us to an even greater danger. We must stress at all times, in our thoughts and our conversations, the grave peril that even a hint of kochi v’otzem yadi represents.
The more we seek to emphasize the fact that we are Jews in exile, the more we seek to fortify our own emunah and bitachon, and the more strongly we repudiate any insinuations that call for reliance on mortals, the more zechuyos we will arouse for Heavenly protection.
May we all be granted the wisdom to do so.