Why is Paris Burning? France, Napoleon, Islam and the Alter Rebbe

Beyond the immediate tragic events happening in Paris — and the imminent threats around the world to Jews and all good citizens — is there something bigger transpiring here? The best way to understand the here and now is to step back, lift ourselves above the fray, and take a birds’ eye view of the unfolding drama. As always, placing things in the sweep of historical context, looking at the big picture, provides us with critical insight into the current frame and chapter, allowing us to forge a strategy and chart a direction going forward.

France and the Jewish people have a long complicated and tenuous relationship. The one time France is mentioned in the Torah is in the Book of Ovadiah (1:20), where it tells us how the Jews exiled in “Tzorfas” (France) will, at the end of days, prevail over their enemies and the ones that remained silent in face of their suffering, and how they will return to Zion. But until that happens, over the years, France has not treated Jews well. Some of the greatest Jewish massacres in the Middle Ages took place in France. In the 13th century King Louis IX expelled the Jews.

Then, during the Franco-Russian War of 1812, Jewish leaders disagreed about which side would be better for the Jews, with the Alter Rebbe supporting Czar Alexander I of Russia, because his victory would assure that the spiritual integrity of Jewish life would be preserved. Though Napoleon would provide Jews with greater freedom, emancipation and material comfort, France would also introduce a secular, self-made, anti-G-d attitude, which threatened to assimilate and all but destroy the soul of the Jews unprepared for the challenges of the modern world. Indeed, Alexander vehemently denounced the liberties given to the Jews by the French and demanded that the Orthodox Church protest against Napoleon’s tolerant religious policy. He referred to the Emperor in a proclamation as “the Anti-Christ” and the “Enemy of God.” Yet, the Alter Rebbe still supported Alexander! That was then; today, 200 years later, as France and the West became more refined, the Rebbe made it clear (in a talk delivered at the end of 1991), that we can now indeed engage, benefit from — and transform — the freedoms of modern society and thrive as Jews. And thrive we did. France has proudly experienced a renaissance of Jewish traditional life. Yet, the tenuous relationship remains. And now comes the latest Muslim insurgence into France and Europe, with the most recent attacks against French Jews and French citizens. What are we to make of all this? And what happens in France, history shows, affects the world. France clearly plays a central role and reflects the overall European Western world.

Please join Rabbi Jacobson in this eye-opening France/24 Tevet/Vaeira workshop and discover the hidden choreography behind today’s events. Learn a fascinating Zohar (at the end of this week’s portion) how at the end of days Ishmael will attack Esau (France and the West), and how it will impact the Jewish people. This and other inside “secrets” provides perspective to today’s events in France — and the world — illuminating for us: why is Paris burning? Why is it, of all places, at the forefront of today’s upheavals? And above all: After a long history of tension with its Jewish citizens, which of the two options will France — and Europe — choose: To make its peace with G-d and the Jews or to capitulate to the forces of Ishmael? The end, as Ovadiah assures us, will be victory. The only question is this: how will we get there and who will be on board?

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