Ask the Rabbi with Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet ..
An affirmation of endurance
As a Jew who lived through the Holocaust – I’m not a survivor as I was in Switzerland but bore witness to the devastation – and now having retired to Israel, I wonder why we suffer so much? What’s at the core of this hatred? Can we really see a Jewish future? If they took six million of us only 70 years ago, why can’t it happen again – and again, until there is nothing left of us?
God forbid! When the Almighty promised our forefathers that their offspring wouldn’t be able to be counted like the stars in the heavens or the sand by the sea, it did not mean that at any one point we’d have such a multitude of Jews. Quite the contrary. Elsewhere God clearly says: “For you will be a minority among the nations.” The real emphasis is perpetuity. The Greeks, Romans et al – all but disappeared. But the Jew – since the beginning of time, until the end of time, as we will know it, will always endure ad infinitum. In that sense it will be impossible to ever count us.
I suggest to you there are two dimensions to anti-Semitism. There is the ignorant hater and there is the malevolent hater. The ignorant hater doesn’t know what Judaism really stands for. For some, it is about
world dominance – after all we talk about universal salvation. For others, Judaism is if not supremacy, then surely superiority – the “chosen people” complex. And for others still, the sum total of Judaism is inextricably linked with Israel – which is why, whatever happens, there invariably spills over into the Diaspora.
The tragic irony of all this is that Judaism is really the only one faith that insists that you have purpose as you are. It is the one faith that doesn’t proselytise – that insists you are as God created you and you can find true meaning in that very role. Unlike other faiths that insist the only way to heaven is but through them, Judaism says, you hold the ticket to heaven in your hands by virtue of who you are.
But then there is malevolent hater. There is something about the Jewish mind, the Jewish heart, the Jewish home, the Jewish family and the Jewish community that oozes certain spiritual nobility. The non-Jew senses it, dare I say, sometimes even more so than the Jew. Sometimes they will acknowledge it and admire it. There have always been many philo-Semites, cherishing and celebrating the Jew and Judaism. As the late US President John Adams put it: “I will insist the Hebrews have done more to civilise man than any other nation.” But, alas, all too often there have been many that were agitated by this uniqueness of the Jew – this “light unto the nations,” and what it triggers in them.
Thus prompting the response: Deal with the effect or eradicate the cause. And so through the course of history we have been hated on both fronts.
You want to know if we can survive all the hate? Perhaps it is best summed up in the words of Sarah Litman. Her father and brother were murdered in Israel en-route to her pre-wedding celebrations. When she rose from shiva she, together with her fiancé, invited the whole world to her wedding last Thursday. And, indeed, so many from around the world did come. In her words: “Don’t let our enemies rejoice. We have fallen and we have risen. With God’s help our wedding will take place Thursday 26 November, 14 Kislev, at Binyanei Hauma in Jerusalem. The Jewish nation is invited to rise from the dust and celebrate with us.”
That is the story of our people. Facing its problems and responding to them positively, and refusing to give in to panic, bitterness, or self-pity.
We, the Jewish people, against the odds, are a collective affirmation of life.
Our existence and achievements are a living testimony to one of Judaism’s greatest messages to humankind: the principled defeat of tragedy by the power of hope. It is impossible not to sense beneath our history, the hand of God.
And that is why Am Yisroel Chai, we will always endure.
Rise up & dance once more
Does Judaism believe in life after death?
Yes, it sure does. It’s called Musaf – the prayer recited after the rabbi’s sermon.
Fundamental to Jewish belief is the fact that even after we die, we still live on, albeit in another more spiritual realm.
And equally basic to Jewish belief is that there will come a point when, as in the words of the prophet: “Those who sleep in the ground will rise up and dance once more.”
Does yahrzeit ever conclude?
I’ve been told that after 50 years we stop observing a yahrzeit, but have not found a source. Have you heard of this?
And to think people still commemorate the yahrtzeit of Moses 3,300 years on – someone should tell them! A yahrtzeit commemorates the life of a loved one and reflecting on the elevation of the soul as it transpires each year. Why should that stop at any given time?