Terumah: The Passion

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A Jewish Response to Contemporary Religion

Just as joy is reduced from the start of Av, likewise, joy is increased from the start of Adar. Rav Papa said: Therefore, a Jew engaged in litigation with a non-Jew, should avoid it during Av, which is a time of ill mazal for him; and should make himself available during Adar, when his mazal is powerful – Talmud Ta’anit 29a-b

The Prussians say that the Prussian Kaiser is the greatest; the French say that the French Emperor is the greatest; The Russians say the Czar is the greatest. And I Levi Yiztchak ben Sarah Sosha say Yisgadel v’Yiskadesh Shmei Rabbo – Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev before leading the prayer service

All the king’s servants kneeled and bowed before Haman…But Mordechai would not kneel or bow – Esther 2:3

First I felt that we should not respond to Mel Gibson’s new film. After all, the story has been repeated countless times over the last two millennia: They accuse us Jews of killing Jesus their god and we are left defending ourselves in a no-win situation. Like the fellow that tells you: “When will you to stop beating your wife?” We have no need and it would serve no purpose to argue the issue.

Indeed, throughout the centuries Jews abhorred any debates with Christians. It was the Christians that insisted on them. Jews were secure in their position and had nothing to prove. “Just leave us alone and don’t kill our children” was the only request the Jews had. But as long as the Jews existed and maintained their beliefs the Christians (and later the Muslims) felt threatened. After all: Why the need for a “New” Testament when the Old one is perfectly fine?

Our role has always been to spread light and not engage in debates, fruitless or not. “Po’ola yemoma anan,” we are day-workers, our Rebbes tell us. Our job is not to fight darkness but to radiate light. Frankly, I am not even interested in seeing the film; there are more important things to do. Besides, I just don’t like that one filmmaker dictates what we see and dominates the topics of our discourse.

But on further thought, everything is Divine Providence. Perhaps this entire uproar about the film is meant to focus in on certain vital truths.

I then remembered the Talmud’s intriguing statement: Just as joy is reduced from the start of Av, likewise, joy is increased from the start of Adar. Therefore, a Jew engaged in litigation with a non-Jew, should avoid it during Av, which is a time of ill mazal for him; and should make himself available during Adar, when his mazal is powerful.

Amazing! The biggest Gentile/Jew trial of all is the one Jews have been put on by Christians accusing them of killing Jesus.

Isn’t it ironic that as we enter the Adar month of joy, a month when Jewish mazal prevails, when Haman’s plot to kill the Jews was overturned, when we are told that this is the best month to face litigation, Mel Gibson chooses to release his film reiterating the single greatest accusation of Christians against the Jews! And the world is consumed with this controversy: Did the Jews kill Jesus? Are they at fault? Are they collectively guilty?

Haman, like many Anti-Semites before and after him, lost it in his irrational fury toward the Jews. He was delighted, the Talmud tells us, when the lots he threw fell out in Adar. He knew that in this month, on the 7th of Adar, Moses died. What better month to kill the Jews?! He was so excited that he forgot that Moses was also born on the 7th of Adar. Moses brought unprecedented light into this world – the light of Sinai. So before you celebrate Haman, first check out all your facts.

Gibson could not have chosen a better month than this one to put the Jews on trial.

What is the Jewish response to this “tribunal”?

Our response is that we are not on trial; the Christians are the ones on trial. It is they that slaughtered millions of Jews, without any reciprocity from the Jews; it is they that betrayed the teachings of Jesus; and it is they that must figure out why they needed to demonize Jews for so many years in order to thrive as a religion.

Christians are the ones that chose to worship a Jew. And what type of Jew, an ultra-orthodox one. He probably looked like a Jew from Boro Park or Meah Shearim… It behooves them to understand what Jesus the Jew taught them.

We Jews have no need to apologize to anyone. We introduced civilization to the world. All of Jesus’ teachings came from his pious Judaism. Christianity and Islam (and the rest of the world) has only profound thanks to give to the Jews for their contributions. That is why I find it ludicrous that we have to engage in protests and critique of a film that continues to perpetuate (and some say: exaggerate) the gospels obstinate need to demonize the Jews.

We stand upright, proud of the fact that 3316 years we stood at Sinai and received G-d’s blueprint for life – a universal mandate for all human beings. Even when the children of Esau and Ishmael rejected this mandate, the Jewish people embraced it outright, with the knowledge that the day would come when all the nations of the world would ultimately accept it. As the Divine words rang out from Sinai they were heard across the universe, and everyone was left trembling. It would take centuries before the tremble would begin to be absorbed into the fibers of the pagan world. But the Jews always knew that it was a process. A process that would take time, patience, hard work, and yes, much suffering.

Maimonides writes that by the mysterious ways of Divine Providence, Christianity and Islam helped pave the way for the Messianic age by acquainting the world with the principle of Messiah, the Torah and mitzvot. As time would pass their beliefs would continue to refine and mature.

We do not need to apologize for the fact that Jesus was a devout Jew. Neither do we need to apologize for whatever was transpiring internally within our family. Our issues with Jesus are strictly between us and him – no one else was around then, and Christianity was not even born at the time and wouldn’t be for years.

Christians for many centuries fed off of anti-Semitism to survive. Constantine actually insisted that we must keep the Jews alive so that we have them as a common enemy. How convenient Jews were throughout the ages? Whenever there was need for a leader to galvanize his people he always had a perfect scapegoat.

Two millennia of persecution have also distorted the Jewish psyche. Deep-seated “us against the goyim” paranoia pervades many Jewish circles. “Let’s not get too much attention lest the “goyim” will come and get us.” History is the best justification for these fears. Overconfidence in Spain’s Golden Age, and later in Germany, all led to disaster.

But let us not begin to define our identities by an anti-Semitic history. Just as the Christians fed off of Jew baiting, the ADL feeds off of their anti-Semitism as well, and we get caught in a vicious cycle. Witness Abe Foxman’s statements against the film. Some even argue that he played right into the marketers of the film by adding to its notoriety – the holy grail of marketing.

Is there anything more to Jewish identity than being against racism? Do we stand for anything positive or are we defined just by our being against something negative?

Purim and the month of Adar tells us that our identity is to be a “light unto nations” – to introduce light even in the darkest places.

As Haman developed his plot to annihilate all the Jews, Mordechai and Esther gathered the Jews in fast and prayer. The children played an instrumental role. Mordechai gathered them and studied with them sacred texts. They didn’t just wring their hands and say “how terrible is our predicament.” Mordechai also didn’t argue that perhaps it’s better not to stand out as a Jew. Perhaps he should bow to Haman and placate him. He did not do what some Jews later thought would be the solution to the “Jewish problem” – baptism and conversion…, G-d forbid.

Mordechai and Esther did not wring their hands and did not capitulate. They acted, and they acted as Jews. They embraced the light of Torah and they recommitted to G-d’s mandate. And this commitment, coupled with Esther’s efforts, brought about the total transformation from darkness to light

This was the posture that the Jews always took in face of persecution. Rashi, Rambam, Ramban and thousands of others all lived in terrible times. At any minute another pogrom could have broke out. At any minute they could have been expelled from their land. Yet, they never allowed their enemies to define them. While blood was spilling in the streets outside, generations of Torah scholars were writing their commentaries for eternity. Not like writers today whose dysfunctionality is expressed in their words, these greats rose above their predicament and held on to the vision of Abraham and Moses – the vision of Sinai, that despite all the darkness G-d’s message will ultimately prevail.

And in this month of Adar – when our mazal passionately shines – the world is captivated yet again by these Jews.

The true Jewish response to all this controversy always remains the same. Whenever Jews were attacked, we always felt the deep pain not just for ourselves but also for those causing us so much anguish. The pain that they are so far away from recognizing the Divine Image in which they were created and so far away from their calling. Jews always knew that the Divine plan for creation would be realized – that the day will come when all nations of the world will serve one G-d, and their primary preoccupation will be to know G-d. But how long would it take? And how much would we have to suffer in the process?

When under attack Jews would simply pull back into the shelter of their souls. They would reply on their deep faith and hold on dearly to the Divine Promise that the world will change.

This is the real story behind the film. Or the real story that should be behind the film. This is the real and ultimate passion – the passion to finally embrace Sinai…

World history has moved through many stages. Nations have worshipped many kings and leaders. Bowed to many idols. Slowly, slowly they have come to understand that it’s not humans we should be worshipping. The world is embracing Mordechai’s attitude not to bow to any man or man-made object, only to G-d alone.

Purim is the best Jewish response to Mel Gibson’s Passion. On Purim we reaffirmed the commitment made at Sinai. With Mordechai leading the way, the Jews declared their refusal to bow down to anything man-made, and to serve G-d alone.

This infuriated Haman and the Persians, just as it disturbed the Egyptians, Assyrians and Babylonians before, and just as it would agitate the Romans, Christians, Muslims, Byzantines, Spanish, Portuguese English, French and Germans in the generations to come. Nothing new.

This is the true message of Purim:

We refuse to be defined by the hatred hurled at us. No we will not apologize for bringing civilization to the world. We will not apologize for giving the Christians and the Muslims direction to live a meaningful and Divine life.

We are defined not by anti-Semitism and not by Gentile endorsements and apologies. We are not seduced when a gentile accepts us. “Yankel, you hear the good news: The Vatican Council has acknowledged that Judaism is legitimate…” A glik hot unz batrasket. We need their approval – we who taught them what G-d wants of the human race?!

For a Jew it is a true redemption to see how the nations of the world have evolved and how they have slowly embraced the Divine mandate to the world. We are delighted to see how a nation like the United States has embodied the principles given at Sinai and taught by Abraham.

No, this is not the vindication or victory of the Jews over the nations. This is G-d’s victory, the universal victory that nations have been tamed and civilized. And we Jews celebrate – we celebrate whenever we see a human being living up to his or her Divine Image.

The true message of Purim is that we have been given a Divine mandate how to live our lives. Abraham, father of all nations, began teaching it, and at Sinai it was formalized, and consummated at Purim. It took centuries for the nations of the world to first embrace it and then to integrate it. For over a millennium and a half the nations went through their “growing pains” and killed millions of Jews and others in the process.

Hopefully, now the nations have matured to a point when they can embrace their calling without the need to demonize the Jew.

Yes, there is a trial going on this month. The human race is on trial. Will they embrace the Divine mandate given at Sinai for all peoples, will they finally come to realize their own calling – to cherish the seven universal Noachide laws upon which all of civilization is based?

And Jews? Jews have to get out of the “galut mentality” and rise to the occasion. We have been blessed with carrying the Divine mandate for the human race, and we must live up to our destiny. We live in a world more refined than ever. Never before has their been a country like America driven by the Biblical vision of life — offering human beings their basic freedoms, inalienable rights endowed upon us all by the Creator who creates us all equal.

The stage is set. We have today unprecedented opportunities to utilize these freedoms to inspire and teach the world the Divine principles of civilization.

If anything, the issue that The Passion exposes is this: Has Christianity finally matured? Has it finally achieved a self-confidence and security to acknowledge its roots in Judaism without having to “kill the witness”? Or will they regress to the Middle Ages and validate and define themselves only through invalidating Judaism?

And finally, will Islam now follow their lead?

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