Shiur by Rav Drukman: Sinai and Anti-Semitism

A summary of lectures on anti-Semitism by Rav Chaim Drukman, Shlita.

Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Hirsch

Judaism Aryeh Hirsch
Aryeh Hirsch

In the third month after leaving Egypt, the Jews came to the desert of Sinai” ( Shmot, 19,1).

“This desert has five names…Sinai:  because, from there sinah (hatred) descended to the nations of the world ” (Talmud Shabbat 89a).  

Rav Chaim Drukman: “During the Yom Kippur War, I saw a letter in one of the newspapers. It was from a soldier at the front to his father, and in it the son wrote: ‘ Abba (Dad), when I saw the multitude of enemy soldiers and armor surrounding us, and realized the grave danger that we were in,  I saw only one vision that kept me going- the number tattooed on your arm, the number from Auschwitz. That’s what gave me the strength to overcome (koach l’hitgaber)’.

Rav Drukman recently gave a series of lectures about anti-Semitism  to his talmidim (students) at the Or Etzion Yeshiva. The lectures began with the Tenth of Tevet, and its Holocaust commemoration, and ran through the weeks of the readings of the Egyptian exile; this paper is only a short summary. The Rosh Yeshiva, himself a childhood Holocaust survivor, started at the beginning:

“Breishit, in the beginning, the Lord created Heaven and Earth… And the Lord said: ‘Let there be Light’, and light came into being” (Genesis 1,verses 1,3). The Almighty created a Universe in which the beginning, purpose, aim and ultimate goal is: “Let there be light”, that Divine Light and Good fill the world.

However, between that beginning and end, there is verse 2, which describes a long historical process involving “tohu vavohu, chaos and desolation, and darkness..  “. This verse describes the classical four enemy empires who exiled the Jews. But whereas opposition to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was mainly to their world-famous claim to the land of Canaan; and the Egyptians had been mainly motivated by xenophobic opposition to “ geirim”, foreigners; these four Empires represent hatred of and opposition to the Divine Light itself.

Thus, the Exiles of Babylon, Media-Persia, Greece and Rome, which represent the battle “ bein Yisrael la’amim”, between Israel and the nations, are the battle of Good vs. Evil.

Babylon destroyed the First Temple and exiled the Jews. Kol ha’dvarim ha’yesodi’im vha’yichudi’im b’yoter b’am Yisrael kshurim l’Eretz Yisrael : all the most elemental and unique aspects of the nation of Israel are bound up with the Land of Israel.

For example, R. Yehuda Halevi says (Sefer HaKuzari) that prophecy can only occur in, or about, the Land.

The Talmud relates that the Jews being exiled from their land represents the greatest voiding  (bitul) of the Torah that could ever be (Chagigah, 5b). 

Concerning the very Mitzvot (commandments) of the Torah themselves, Rabbeinu Bechaye writes that “although we do Mitzvot in Exile, and although the Mitzvot are obligatory (chovat haguf) in every land, our Rabbis have taught that their main fulfillment is only in the Holy Land”. Ramban writes similarly.

The Babylonian program was to take Israel out of its land, and thus void its mission of spreading Divine Light in this world. No Land, and so no prophecy, no Torah, and no Mitzvot on their highest plane of actuation.

A modern  parallel to Babylon, was the 20th century British Empire, which betrayed its trust of the Palestinian Mandate, to enable the creation of a Jewish Homeland, and interfered with free access into the country, and to the formation of a Jewish State.

After Babylon, came the hatred of the Empire of Media-Persia, which in the time of Esther and Mordechai tried to physically exterminate the Jewish people, “from the young to the elderly, women and children (Al Hanisim prayer for Purim)”. The modern parallel was, of course, Nazi Germany ( and contemporary Persia-Iran, a Nazi-wannabe). 

After Persia  came Greece, whose Hellenism threatened the spiritual destruction of the people of Israel, all the while letting them live within the boundaries of the Holy Land. The parallel: the atheistic Soviet Union.

And finally, our present exile, Rome-Western civilization, outstanding  both for its duration (1900 years ) and its geographic spread (worldwide). Rome has combined all three aspects of hatred, producing an anti-Semitism against the Jewish spirit, the Jewish body and the Jewish land.

Rav Kook sees the battle against Light as crucial to all these three aspects; he writes, in Orot and in Orot HaKodesh : “ The Nation of Israel, after accepting Torah on Sinai,  influences the world in obligations to morality and justice , which emanate from knowledge of the G-d of truth. But the world does not want to accept obligations, and even what little the world accepts, she does so with resentment in her heart, for obligations don’t allow a barbarian soul to fulfill all its desires”. Ergo, anti-Semitism ferments and grows.

600,000 Jewish men, and a total nation of 3 million, accepted  Torah at Sinai.It is said we somewhat reluctantly accepted all of Torah’s obligations, so that the Almighty had to threaten us with instant burial under the mountain had we refused His offer( Shmot 19,17 and Talmud Shabbat 88a).

Rav Drukman brings two historical greats to who taught that Jews cannot escape neither from their Judaism, nor from their mission of spreading Sinaitic light.

The Abarbanel writes of the Spanish Inquisition:” Although the Marranos and those who allowed themselves to be baptized tried mightily to be like total gentiles, it was not to be, as they forever were called ‘Jew’…. they were under constant suspicion of practicing Judaism, and true or false, thousands went to their deaths in the fires of the Inquisition”.

R. Isaac Herzog, former Chief Rabbi of Israel: With regard to the midrashic comment that Jacob sent Esau ( Eisav) 600,000 dogs along with a like quantity of sheep: the nation of Israel is likened to sheep, as it follows the Lord as sheep follow the shepherd. For the 600,000 Jews at Sinai, Jacob prepared 600,000 dogs, a guard-dog for each lamb. What for? Not to guard the sheep from wolves (anti-Semites); for that is the job of the shepherd (the Lord Almighty)to do . The purpose of the dog is that when a lamb wanders and is about to leave the fold, then the dog returns the sheep to its proper place, sometimes with a bark, sometimes with a bite.

Rav Kook points out the contradiction between two back-to-back promises given Avraham Avinu at the Akeida (the Binding of Yitzchak): “Your descendants will inherit the cities of their enemies…and all the nations of the world will be blessed through your children (Breishit 22;17-18)”. The first promise speaks of enemies; the second promise does not : how do these promises coexist?

Answer: they don’t, but rather they refer to two different times: the first of anti-Semitism, the second one in the future, when the eyes of the nations of the world will open and they will see that the source of blessing is the Nation of Israel. The ultimate revelation of the uniqueness (yichud) of Israel is for the ultimate good of all mankind.

The quest of Avraham Avinu, the return to the land of Israel/Eden, was a Lech Lecha return to the source of his very soul( Alshich, Kli Yakar), and was to lead to “v’nivrchu v’cha kol mishpchot ha’adama”-all the families of the earth will be blessed through you (Breishit 12:3). Our Redemption (Geula)  is the basis for the Redemption of all mankind, with the universal peace envisioned by Isaiah : “ they shall break their swords into shovels , nation shall not lift sword unto nation, and they shall not learn warfare anymore…. for Torah shall emanate from Zion and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:3-4)”.

Avraham’s, and our, return to and battle for all parts of the Holy Land, is a battle for the good of all mankind, for the realization of the “Yehi Or!(Let there be Light)” purpose of Creation. Unlike the martyrdom-type of Kiddush Hashem that anti-Semites forced  upon us in previous historical epochs, what is required today is a life of Kiddush Hashem(sanctifying the Name of the Lord), doing all that is required of us as Jews: in the sphere between man and G-d, man and fellow man, and man and his Medinah(Homeland).

In the public sphere, Kiddush Hashem requires us l’hagbir et gilui yichudeinu bamdina u’va’aretz , to emphasize our uniqueness as Israel in our own country and land, not wavering in any battle, so that we move from “ and your children shall inherit the gates of their enemies” (the anti-Semites) and finally reach the end of the process,  bringing about Creation’s  purpose Yehi Or and the fulfillment of “ v’nivrchu v’cha” , may all the peoples of the earth be blessed through you.