We recite every year in the hagada and experience the rest the year one of the challenges of Jewish life: “it is not just one who rises against us to destroy us, but in every generation, they rise against us to destroy us.” It is not the cheeriest thought, but still perplexing. Why do they rise against us in every generation? And who or what is the “one”? A person, a nation, or what?
What makes it even more bewildering is that the people and the nations differ greatly in their ideologies. The ancient pagans (Egyptians, Philistines, Babylonians, Greeks and Romans) hated us, the medieval Christians hated us, modern Muslims hate us, and the political atheists (the Communists) hated us. The royal classes hated us and the peasants hated us. There is no common denominator for those who rise against us to destroy us; often they hate each other as well. What they have in common is that they wish to destroy us. So why is that?
There are some among us who harbor the illusion that today it is all about Israel – that if Israel just compromised and conceded then all the problems of the world would disappear, and we would live happily ever after because no one – no one – would have any issues with us anymore. It is a delusion.
“It is not just one who rises against us to destroy us” means that there is not one ideological foe that confronts us, but that each generation has new reasons to be antagonistic. It is the ideology that changes – but there is always an ideology that is hostile to Torah and to G-d. So what is it in our generation? After everything that we have endured, and even in recent memory, Jew hatred is again a pressing concern in many parts of the globe. So what do they want from us? The Islamic hatred is at least comprehensible – religion, land, designs for global domination – but why should Jews be targets across the world, and evoke so little sympathy from the International Left – who should see Israel as a modern progressive state that supports most of the same causes they do, and is often the first to help emergency victims across the globe, friend or foe?
The Exodus from Egypt was unique for many reasons. It was G-d’s very public entry into history, the reaffirmation of G-d as Creator, the introduction of His moral law and expectations to mankind, and others. But one is especially important: “Has G-d ever before extracted a nation from the midst of another nation, with sign and wonder, as G-d did to you in Egypt before your eyes?” (Devarim 4:34)
The Exodus was the creation of a nation from another nation – the only time that occurred in all of history. Individuals or groups can be liberated, people can throw off the shackles of oppression and become free (or, as is happening in various places today in the Arab world, throw off the shackles of oppression and become even less free) – but for a nation to emerge from another nation, that has never happened, before or since. Only G-d can do that – and what G-d did was create a new model of nationalism – the Am Hashem, the “nation of G-d.”
Of the various ideological currents that swirl about the globe in any one era, recent times have seen the decline of nationalism – almost the revulsion of nationalism. The Arab world has long flirted with the idea of one Arab union, which fortunately they can never implement, and has now been overwhelmed by waves of repressive rulers. Europe has tried to implement it – one union, one currency – and that has been a notable failure of both economics and culture. Despite the Euro, it seems that Germans and Greeks, Spanish and Portuguese, Italians and the French, are really not as similar as they thought they were. Cyprus is the latest country to fall onto hard times. America is in decline because a culture of individual responsibility and entrepreneurship is being replaced by the intrusiveness of government that will purportedly to relieve all discomforts and solve all problems, at the expense of seizing the work product of the successful and industrious.
The Exodus from Egypt was the formation of a “nation from a nation,” the creation of a new form of nationalism formed to represent the Creator in His world. Therein lies the hostility of the Left – we are the last bastions of the national idea, and one that differs dramatically from the national ideas of East and West, left and right – a nation based on “and He gave us His Torah,” a nation in which every individual finds satisfaction and ultimate purpose, a connection with the Creator.
In Orot Hatechiya (44), Rav Kook wrote that the decline of the national idea is part of the birth pangs of Messiah. It is a spiritual discontent that will afflict mankind as it searches for meaning and contentment, and it will be the cause of this generation’s attempt “to rise against us to destroy us.”
But, as before, “and the Holy One, Blessed be He, saves us from their hands.” Their discontent – especially in seeing the rebirth of nationalism in the Jewish state, its prosperity and success, with the majestic sight of an entire nation preparing to celebrate the Pesach of our freedom – will fester, and they too will eventually overcome their hostility, avert their own self-destruction, appreciate the true nature of the Jewish people, and guide the world to the era of redemption and fulfillment for all mankind.
Chag Kasher Sameach to all !