Over 40 years ago, Rabbi Dovid Auerbach, zt”l, the brother of Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt”l, taught at Kiryat Noar, or Boys Town, in Bayit Vegan. There, he worked to try and impress upon his students, who were, more often than not, dealing with less than ideal circumstances in their lives, the importance of continuing their studies in the yeshivah. One student was particularly difficult, and would shrug off all of Reb Dovid’s entreaties to that end.
Shortly before this young man was to leave Kiryat Noar and embark upon his tour of duty in the Israel Defense Force, Rabbi Auerbach spoke to him about the challenges he would face in maintaining his frum lifestyle while in the army. Understanding that the circumstances surrounding this discussion were not the same as the previous ones, the youth listened to what was being told to him and then took leave of his rebbi.
It wasn’t long afterwards that word arrived of this former student’s tragic death in a terrorist attack while serving in the Gaza Strip. Shortly thereafter, on a Shabbos after the morning meal, Rabbi Auerbach had a dream wherein he was visited by the young man.
In the dream, the soldier told his rebbi that since he was killed because he was a Yid, he was able to pass through the Beis Din shel Maalah without having to go through din. But, he said, since Reb Dovid hadn’t convinced him to spend time learning Torah, he wasn’t able to get to his rightful portion in Gan Eden.
“How is that my fault?” Rav Auerbach asked. “I tried many times to convince you, but you wouldn’t listen!”
“This is true,” said his student, “but that last conversation we had, I was in a more serious frame of mind, and if you would have seized the opportunity, I would have gone to learn in yeshivah.”
The bachur told Rav Auerbach that if he would repeat this story, and bring people to hisorerus by doing so, the bachur would then be able to get to his rightful portion.
After Rav Auerbach told this over to a large group of mechanchim, he had another dream in which he saw his student again, but this time he was smiling.
Aside from the obvious and very powerful lesson that is to be learned from this story, there is another lesson that nearly floated right by me. Maybe it should have been obvious, but for some reason it was not.
There are many “justifications” given for the terrorist murderers in Eretz Yisrael, a myriad of reasons to “explain” why they are killing innocent Jews — none of which is the simple fact that they seek to spill Jewish blood. The reason for this is not that they really have grievances that extend beyond the mere fact that we exist; rather, it is because admitting that all they really want is our annihilation doesn’t really help them in their portrayal of themselves as the victims.
But as we see from the story about this young man who was killed as a soldier, in Shamayim the reason for his death was clear: it was not because he was part of an “occupying force,” but for the simple fact that he was a Yid.
This is even more relevant today, when it is growing increasingly more and more acceptable for people to voice their hatred of Jews under the guise of “anti-Zionism,” which they seek to use as cover for little more than rank anti-Semitism. The BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement, which seeks to “punish” Israel, has given them a vehicle to express these feelings while claiming to just be speaking up for “oppressed” Palestinians. And unsurprisingly, the more liberal and progressive and open-minded these people are, the more prone they are to express themselves this way. (For why it is not surprising, see Michtav M’Eliyahu, Vol. 3, pp. 326–7.)
Just last week, the virulently anti-Israel (read: anti-Semitic) organization J Street came out strongly against the Roskam-Vargas trade bill, which would make it a stated objective of the U.S. government to discourage its trading partners from participating in BDS. The “problematic” part of the bill, according to J Street, is that there is no explicit delineation to allow for boycotting products made in the “occupied territories.” But we can see it for what it is: an excuse.
It brings to mind a story from earlier this year, which serves as an example that makes the reality even clearer. At UCLA, when considering the nomination of Rachel Beyda to serve on the council’s Judicial Board (which is, to the council, the equivalent of what the Supreme Court is to the U.S. government), members of the council (who had only recently passed a BDS resolution) voiced concern over the fact that Beyda is “a Jewish student and very active in the Jewish community.”
You read that right. For 40 minutes, members debated openly and on video whether she was qualified to serve on the board, not even because she has ties to the Israeli community, but because she is Jewish. And while the students ultimately apologized for what they said was “poor phrasing,” it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what was going on. As Rachel Frenklak, a friend of Beyda’s, noted to The New York Times, “I swear the word Israel was not said once; it was all about Jewish affiliations. It didn’t leave any doubt that what this is is anti-Semitism. There … is anti-Semitism on the campus, and it manifested itself first with the anti-Israel stuff.”
But the answer to these kinds of manifestations of anti-Semitism isn’t to demand that anti-Semites not be anti-Semitic. After all, that is quite ludicrous. It is the way of the 21st-century world to demand that those who say negative and hurtful things about anyone attend “sensitivity training” to “unlearn” these feelings. But as Yidden in galus, it both isn’t our place to demand that the umos ha’olam treat us as equals, and it also wouldn’t be any more effective than demanding that a cat not chase mice. Anti-Semitism is a manifestation of galus, and as countless Gedolim throughout the ages have explained to us, the more we demand status as equals and say “nihyeh kagoyim — we shall be like the other nations,” the harder the nations of the world will push back.
A son of Harav Chaim Epstein, zt”l, recently told me that his father would never walk in the street while wearing his tallis. He just could not allow himself to feel comfortable enough in galus to simply stroll through the streets as though he were still in shul.
And while I know that I, and many of you, don’t feel the same way, and we can walk through the streets wearing our tallisos, we can do this because we feel more secure. That isn’t something that makes us better. It’s because we don’t live with the same sensitivity to the fact that we are in galus.
We must never forget that.