Burning of the Holy Temple by Francesco Hayez
On April 11, 1944, a young Anne Frank wrote in her diary:
Who has made us Jews different from all other people? Who has allowed us to suffer so terribly until now? It is God Who has made us as we are, but it will be God, too, who will raise us up again. Who knows – it might even be our religion from which the world and all peoples learn good, and for that reason and that reason alone do we now suffer. We can never become just Netherlanders, or just English, or representatives of any other country for that matter. We will always remain Jews.
Anne Frank was on to something. The Talmud asks, from where did Mount Sinai derive its name? After offering a few alternatives, the Talmud suggests that Mount Sinai comes from Hebrew word “sinah” which means hatred, because the non-Jews’ hatred of the Jews descended upon that mountain when the Jewish people received the Torah there.
Torah demands a moral and ethical lifestyle, an attitude of giving rather than taking, a life of service rather than of privilege, that has revolutionized the world. The Jewish people have been charged to be the moral conscience of the world, a mission they have not always succeeded at, but that nevertheless drew the ire, anger and hatred of so many. For two thousand years the Jews were bullied and persecuted simply because of their Jewishness and all that stands for.
After the Holocaust, the world gave the Jews a reprieve from their hatred, becoming instead beneficiaries of their pity. But looking at events around the world, it is rapidly becoming clear that the last 70 years was an aberration. We are witnessing the rise of anti-Semitism, particularly in Europe, as the world reverts back to its ageless pattern and habit.
The Midrash (Eichah Rabbah 1) teaches that three prophets used the term “eichah” – o how! In Deuteronomy, Moses asks: “Eichah, how can I alone bear your troubles, your burden and your strife?” (Deut. 1:12) In the Haftorah for Shabbos Chazon, the Prophet Isaiah asks: “Eichah, how has the faithful city become like a prostitute?” Lastly, Jeremiah begins the Book of Lamentations (Eichah): “Eichah, how is it that Jerusalem is sitting in solitude! The city that was filled with people has become like a widow…”
Eicha – How? How is it that anti-Semitism persists? Why must they rise up against us in every generation? On Tisha B’Av we will sit on the floor and wonder aloud, eicha? How could it be Jews in Eastern Europe have to fear for their lives yet again? Eicha – how could it be that today, with all the progress humanity has made, the ADL measures more than a quarter of the world as holding anti-Semitic views? Eicha – how could it be that terror persists, that three members of family gathering together on Shabbat to celebrate a shalom zachor could be murdered in cold blood?
Rabbi Soloveitchik tells us that though the Midrash identifies three times the word eicha is used, in truth there is a fourth. When Adam and Eve fail to take responsibility, God calls out to them and says ayeka, where are you? Ayeka is spelled with the same letters as eicha, leading Rabbi Soloveitchik to say that when we don’t answer the call of ayeka, when we don’t take personal responsibility for our problems and blame others, we will ultimately find ourselves asking eicha, how could it be?
We can ask eicha, how could all of these terrible things be, but we may never have a definitive answer. Our job is to make sure we can answer the call of ayeka, where are you? Are you taking responsibility?
We may not be able to fully understand why anti-Semitism exists, but we can and must remain vigilant in fighting it. We must remain strong in standing up for Jews everywhere. We must confront evil and do all we can to defeat it. And, we must do all that we can to take personal responsibility to fulfill the Jewish mission to bring Godliness into the world.
If individual Jews were hated for being the conscious of the others, all the more so does a Jewish country generate hate for being the moral conscious of the whole world, held to higher moral standards than any other country or state.
Our job is not to be discouraged by asking eicha, but to ensure that we can answer the call of ayeka. Anti-Semitism will not come to an end by assimilating and retreating. It will come to an end when we can positively answer the question that the Talmud tells us each one of us will be asked when we meet our Maker: did you long for the redemption and did you personally take responsibility to do all that you can to bring the redemption? Did you truly feel the pain of exile and feel the anguish of the Jewish condition in the world? Do you truly and sincerely care? Did you anxiously await every day for Moshiach to herald in an era of peace and harmony, an end to anti-Semitism and suffering?
It is not enough to long for Moshiach, we must bring him. It is not enough to hope for redemption, we must be the catalyst for it. It is not enough to be tired of eicha, we must answer ayeka.
If we want to get up off the floor and end the mourning, if we want to finally end anti-Semitism, it is up to us to do what is necessary to heal our people, to repair the world, to love one another, and to earn the redemption from the Almighty.