The oppression of proselytes is a sin of the greatest magnitude. Those who foster this oppression are violating the very halakha they purport to defend. The current wave of extremism brings shame on Torah, brings shame on halakha, brings shame on the high ideals of our religious tradition.
Angel for Shabbat
Upon attaining freedom, the Israelites complained and demanded that their leader deliver on his campaign promises. The former slaves learned quickly to appreciate their freedom, to demand their rights, to assert their grievances, and to expect their leader to respond effectively.
The story of Pharaoh and the ten plagues provides important lessons about humanity. It highlights how the arrogance and stubbornness of one person can cause so much tragedy to his own people. It underscores how hypocritical demagogues can continue to have the support of underlings even when leading them to calamity after calamity.
Often enough, people are confronted with wickedness and injustice; but instead of standing tall in opposition to the perpetrators of evil, people bow their heads. They lose self-confidence. They think: I am too small and too weak to resist. It’s best to go along or to stay quiet. Resistance can be unpleasant, even dangerous. Thus, evil continues to spread.
Throughout human history, there has been an ongoing tension between the crowd instinct and the personality instinct. Too often, the crowd instinct has prevailed. Masses of people have been whipped up to commit the worst atrocities, to murder innocents, to vent hatred. Too seldom have the masses acted like stars who can and do resist the power of dangerous crowds.
Joseph’s brothers learned to overcome jealousy and hatred. They learned to escape the “syndrome of decay” that eats away at the fiber of life. They learned that life is not a zero sum game; that their winning did not depend on someone else losing; that all humans could live so much more happily and meaningfully if they adopted a syndrome of love and cooperation.
The Jewish people need to draw on the strengths of each of our patriarchs. Like Abraham, we need a powerful spiritual vision that can transform the world. Like Jacob, we need the strength and courage to struggle and defeat those who strive with us. Like Isaac, we need to be optimists. We need to have calm, wise faith. We need to laugh, and to share our laughter with others.
When I was a student at Yeshiva College many years ago, I saw a passage scribbled onto a subway wall at the IRT 181st Street station. That passage had a big impact on me then, and continues to be important to me so many years later. The passage was a quotation from Alan Watts: "For when man no longer confuses himself with the definition of himself that others have given him, he is at once universal and unique."
In our world today, we confront the Laban and Esau types of enemies. The Labans pose as supporters of human rights—but not for Jews, especially Israeli Jews. They are ruthless in their persistent denigration of Israel. The Esaus are terrorists blinded by hatred.They promote and justify hatred and murder; they rejoice at the shedding of Jewish blood.
“The Emperor has no clothes!” These words pierce through the illusions and propaganda and political correctness that engulf us. The many will ignore or deny these words. The few will listen, will face the truth, and will maintain their dignity and the dignity of humanity.