Purim, passports and Ahmadinejad

letter-447577_1280

Listening to the Megila this Purim, I could not help thinking about a latter-day Haman from Persia, who also boasts of his desire to wipe out, annihilate, destroy and kill every Jew in Israel.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has had a way of late of insinuating himself into the happiest of moments. As I sat at the Purim meal, surrounded by my sons, each pleasantly high enough to cast aside any restraints on saying divrei Torah and singing at the top of his lungs, I wondered if I could possibly feel happier than at that particular moment. No sooner did this thought pop into my head than another followed: There must also have been Jews in Poland who felt the same way at their Purim feast in the spring of 1939.

Historian Benny Morris’s January 18 piece, “This Holocaust will be different” presented the worst case scenario vis- -vis Iran as an absolute certainty – no ifs, buts or maybes intruded into his analysis. According to Morris, Iran will certainly obtain nuclear weapons. And once in possession of those weapons, Iran will employ them against Israel within five years.

One can quibble with his analysis at various points, but my only question upon finishing Morris’s piece was whether he had already secured an academic appointment abroad and booked passage for himself and his family. And to tell the truth, I have been wondering myself whether it isn’t time to renew my membership in the Illinois State Bar Association and make sure all our U.S. passports are up-to-date.

Why, I ask myself, should Jews in Germany have seen the writing on the wall after 1933, and taken seriously Hitler’s expressed ambitions, while I ignore Ahmadinejad’s equally clear ambitions, even as he comes ever closer to obtaining the ability to act upon them?

Ultimately I cannot see any answer to that question that is not based upon a religious perspective. Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh said as much recently when he predicted that Israelis will flee en masse as soon as Iran’s nuclear capacity is confirmed.

WHEN I posed my question to a talmid hacham to whom I am close, he replied that the Jews of Germany had a choice to leave. Most of those who arrived in Israel after World War II had little choice. Those from Europe had no homes to which to return, and could not imagine remaining on a continent whose soil was drenched with the blood of their loved ones. And those from Arab lands fled in the face of threats from the local populations. “I cannot believe,” he told me, “that God gathered so many Jews together just to destroy them.”

After the Holocaust, only the creation of the State of Israel offered hope and a sense of identity for the vast majority of the world’s Jews. Another trauma on that scale within little more than half a century would destroy whatever is left of Jewish identity worldwide. In addition, a nuclear attack on Israel would destroy the centers of Torah learning so miraculously rebuilt after the Holocaust.

The first result of the destruction of Israel by a nuclear weapon would contradict the divine promise of the Jewish people’s central role in the fulfillment of God’s plan for the world; the second result contradicts the promise that Torah will never be forgotten from among the Jewish people.

As the Roman armies surrounded Jerusalem, Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakai was smuggled out of the city in a coffin and brought to the Roman encampment. There he twice greeted the Roman commander Vespasian, “Peace be upon you king.” Vespasian told him that he was subject to the death penalty for having called him king when he was not. Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakai assured Vespasian that he must be a king, for the verse in Isaiah says, “Halevanon [i.e., the Temple] will fall to a mighty one,” and we know from another verse that mighty one refers to a king (Gittin 56).

Yet even if Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakai was sure of his interpretation of the verse, why did he take the unnecessary risk of addressing Vespasian as king? The answer is: He wanted Vespasian to understand that he had not defeated the God of the Jews by conquering Jerusalem. Rather he was a mere actor in a divine plan long foretold.

Similarly, the current threat from Persia was described long ago in our classic sources. The Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni 499 to Isaiah 59) states that in the year that the messiah reveals himself, all the nations will threaten one another. In particular, the ruler of Persia will threaten that of Arabia. (Most experts predict that the first thing a nuclear Iran would do is to threaten destruction of Saudi oil fields to force Saudi compliance with its demands to raise oil prices.)

The king of Persia will destroy the whole world, the Midrash continues, and all the nations of the world will be seized with terror. Israel too will be terrified, and ask, “Where should we flee.” God will then answer them, “Why are you afraid? Do not be afraid, for the time of your redemption has arrived. Everything that I did, I did only for you. Nor will this redemption be like the first [from Egypt]… For the final redemption will not be followed by any further suffering or servitude to the nations.”

Just as the threat of Haman to utterly destroy the entire Jewish people was flipped in an instant to the source of our salvation, may the threats of our later day Hamans become the source of an even greater salvation.

Originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post.

You may also like...

21 Responses

  1. Bob Miller says:

    “I recall hearing/reading many times that R’ Chaim Brisker wept and said that the last stanzia (waystation) of Torah during this golus would be America. What can that mean with respect to the fact that the main center of Torah study today is in Israel?

    Comment by sarah elias — March 20, 2007 @ 7:44 am”

    It can mean that Torah Jews in America will next (whenever “next” is; we pray for a speedy redemption) move to Israel as opposed to somewhere else outside Israel.

  2. sarah elias says:

    I recall hearing/reading many times that R’ Chaim Brisker wept and said that the last stanzia (waystation) of Torah during this golus would be America. What can that mean with respect to the fact that the main center of Torah study today is in Israel?

  3. kar says:

    “When those sources are highly suggestive, I think it is worth noting.”

    It’s worth noting too thought that this is a very late midrash (one can’t put the weight on it one could with an earlier source or a gemara).

  4. kar says:

    “WHEN I posed my question to a talmid hacham to whom I am close, he replied that the Jews of Germany had a choice to leave.”

    I don’t understand this. The Jews in Germany were only a small percentage of Jews killed in the Holocaust. Many in Eastern Europe had little place to flee.

  5. Jewish Observer says:

    “For once I must agree with Jewish Observer”

    – this could shtehr a shidduch

  6. Yisrael Moshe says:

    R. Jonathan,

    I once heard long ago that the Chofetz Chaim Zt’l said there would be three World Wars before the Geulah arrives, and that the 3rd War would be the worst of them all.

    Is this statement accurate? Does any of the readers here know?

  7. Menachem Lipkin says:

    Bob,

    You’re right. It’s too big to go into, but there definitely were oppurtunities that were not seized.

    “It’s also fair to say that Eretz Yisrael and the Jews there are under a special level of hashgacha.”

    I’m counting on it. :)

  8. Bob Miller says:

    Regarding “Comment by Menachem Lipkin — March 14, 2007 @ 4:26 pm”

    This is not the place to air this all out again, but I’ll point out that there were many external obstacles to mass Jewish emigration from Europe in the late 1930’s. No one who did not experience the confusion of those times can have any real idea of that situation, or of the full range of factors that Orthodox leaders had to consider with little hard information.

    It’s also fair to say that Eretz Yisrael and the Jews there are under a special level of hashgacha.

  9. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Jonathan Rosenblum: I assumed that I the plethora of articles I have written discussing policy towards Iran was sufficient to spare me from the charge of political quietism.

    Ori: I owe you an apology, I didn’t understand your piece correctly or read it in the proper context. I am frustrated by what appears to be a Chamberlin-style emphasis on trade sanctions against Iran, but I guess since I’m not frustrated enough to leave my cushy job and join the military I don’t have the right to complain.

  10. Jonathan Rosenblum says:

    For once I must agree with Jewish Observer: I hope no one makes life decisions based on articles — even, or perhaps most of all, mine. And like Harry Maryles and Ilana, I’m uncomfortable with reading Midrashim or any other classic source as an absolute blueprint of current events. Perhaps Rav Elchonon Wasserman could; I know I can’t.

    Nor did I mean to suggest we have nothing to worry about. We have plenty to worry about. Taking that worry and directing it towards teshuva should be our goal. If Ahmadinejad and the mullahs constitute the king as dangerous as Haman about which the Gemara speaks, that only emphasizes how much we must direct ourselves towards teshuva.

    Finally, I did not mean to suggest that we do not have to continue to deal with current events with hishtadlus and a clear-headed analysis of events al pi derech hatevah, just as Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai did when he concluded that the power of the surrounding Roman armies was overwhelming, and that everything must be done to avoid engaging them in open warfare. I assumed that I the plethora of articles I have written discussing policy towards Iran was sufficient to spare me from the charge of political quietism.

    At the same time, as a believing Jew I try to view current events through the lens of Hashem’s plans for the world, and I assume that our classic sources provide the sharpest lens. When those sources are highly suggestive, I think it is worth noting.

  11. Ellen says:

    While there are reassuring reasons why G-d wants to give us his protection, we must nonetheless see the physical reality and do our part. The fears are real and we should use them to continue our efforts as Ilana says, in Teshuva, Tefilla and Tzedakah.

  12. ilana says:

    I am not so comfortable with a statement of perfect confidence that G-d will not allow a calamity to occur. Isn’t that what people said on the eve of the destruction of the first Temple?

    What we CAN say with confidence is that G-d runs the world. He controls Ahmadinejad, not the other way round. And if, heaven forbid, G-d does allow some calamity to befall us it will be entirely in response to our own actions.

    Thus, teshuvah, tefilah, and tzedakah (repentance, prayer, and righteous acts) by Jews AROUND THE WORLD are by far our best response to the dangers surrounding us.

    Personally, I do not see the current situation as a reason to leave Israel. In fact, I am currently in the process of moving there.

  13. Menachem Lipkin says:

    From Bob Miller:

    “Our nation has spiritual leaders for a reason, which includes their giving us our perspective and marching orders for dealing with crises like this one.”

    Ufortunately, many of the spiritual leaders in Europe did not issue marching orders in time.

  14. Jewish Observer says:

    “I sure hope no one makes pivotal life decisions based only on some articles, speeches, or blogs … ”

    – uh oh

  15. another Mordechai says:

    Dear HaRav Rosenblum,

    Your comments are exactly right on!
    (Except for the possibly-misplaced comment which presumes to know when Moshiach is coming.)

    Before the “First Iraqi War” of 575″1,
    HaRav Shach ZaTZa”L stated that although people may choose to “run away” by leaving Eretz Yisro’ail, they are only depriving themselves of the opportunity to grow tremendously in their Emmunah and Bitachon in HaShem by staying.

    The more-appropriate quote which he cited was the verse from Ovad’yah HaNovvee: “U’Vi’Har Tziyon Tee’hi’yeh F’laitoh – Vi’Hoyoh Kodesh” –
    in which HaShem promised a Yishoo’a to those in Eretz Yisro’ail who remain holy and loyal to His Torah.

    (Just as an aside, HaRav Shach always learned in the back of the Bais Medrash in the “Ponovezh” Yeshiva, and when people spoke to him there – they could see – right behind him – this very verse – which had been engraved on the wall when the Bais Medrash was built 40 years earlier.)

  16. mordechai says:

    And maybe God gathered so many Jews in one place and offered us a challenge to rise and to? and the consequences are ours and not His? Did the Jews in the time of the first churban also deny the possibility that God would radically redefine the role that Jews were playing in the cosmos?

    At the end of the day I can but agree with Bob Miller’s post. Bravo!

  17. Bob Miller says:

    Our nation has spiritual leaders for a reason, which includes their giving us our perspective and marching orders for dealing with crises like this one. I sure hope no one makes pivotal life decisions based only on some articles, speeches, or blogs about current events. We can take it on faith that our true spiritual leaders will step up to the plate.

  18. Ori Pomerantz says:

    What is the meaning of “Ein Somchim al HaNes” (literally, we do not count on miracles)? Is it limited to personal matters, as opposed to national ones?

  19. Harry Maryles says:

    Similarly, the current threat from Persia was described long ago in our classic sources. The Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni 499 to Isaiah 59) states that in the year that the messiah reveals himself, all the nations will threaten one another. In particular, the ruler of Persia will threaten that of Arabia. (Most experts predict that the first thing a nuclear Iran would do is to threaten destruction of Saudi oil fields to force Saudi compliance with its demands to raise oil prices.)

    I think it’s wrong to make predictions based on Midrashim. I too have faith that God did not rebuild The Torah world and gather in the masses post holocaust only to destroy them in one fell swoop a few decades later.

    But taking our current circumstances as a fulfillment of a Midrashic prediction is a dangerous proposition. Doing so can lead one to all manner of folly. Lubavitch does precisely this when pointing to proofs of their belief that Moshicah’s arrival is imminent. And if a circumstance fall short… they interpret. We should never point to our current circumstances as a fulfillment of a Midrashic prophesies. We don’t know. What if it isn’t? What if God is not yet ready for Moshiach to come? What if we are to endure more tests, God forbid? Putting our faith in one basket and having that basket removed may just cause some of us to lose their faith.

  20. Harry Maryles says:

    Similarly, the current threat from Persia was described long ago in our classic sources. The Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni 499 to Isaiah 59) states that in the year that the messiah reveals himself, all the nations will threaten one another. In particular, the ruler of Persia will threaten that of Arabia. (Most experts predict that the first thing a nuclear Iran would do is to threaten destruction of Saudi oil fields to force Saudi compliance with its demands to raise oil prices.)
    I think it’s wrong to make predictions based on Midrashim. I too have faith that God did not rebuild The Torah world and gather in the masses post holocaust only to destroy them in one fell swoop a few decades later.

    But taking our current circumstances as a fulfillment of a Midrashic prediction is a dangerous proposition. Doing so can lead one to all manner of folly. Lubavitch does precisely this when pointing to proofs of their belief that Moshicah’s arrival is imminent. And if a circumstance fall short… they interpret. We should never point to our current circumstances as a fulfillment of a Midrashic prophesies. We don’t know. What if it isn’t? What if God is not yet ready for Moshiach to come? What if we are to endure more tests, God forbid? Putting our faith in one basket and having that basket removed may just cause some of us to lose their faith.