There Is A Certain People: Shabbat Message by Rabbi Dan Levin

Shabbat Message by Rabbi Dan Levin graphic for Temple Beth El of Boca Raton

Across the animal kingdom, those who creep across our planet seem inexorably drawn to power.

For some, power is about safety and security.  For others, power is about progress, an opportunity to make a difference and to create pathways to a better life.

But for others, power is about amassing wealth and advantage, to fashion for oneself as comfortable, luxurious, and indulgent a lifestyle as possible.

Too often, the pathway to power is paved with cobblestones of anger, resentment, and fear.  When someone plays on your fears of vulnerability, stokes your feelings of resentment, promises to defend you, to promote your interests, to ensure that your power is protected, they begin to earn trust, we begin to empower them.

This is where antisemitism begins.

In the book of Esther, we meet King Ahasuerus, ruler of a domain that extends from India to Ethiopia.  He cares solely for his personal power and the material comfort and personal pleasures that power provides.  Those like Vashti, who refuse to indulge him, are threats to be crushed and cast aside.

But then comes Haman, a man of unquenchable thirst for power and privilege.  And when Mordechai threatens his dominance, he employs the oldest of antisemitic canards.

“… ‘There is a certain people, scattered and dispersed among the other peoples in all the provinces of your realm, whose laws are different from those of any other people and who do not obey the king’s laws; and it is not in Your Majesty’s interest to tolerate them.” (Esther 3:8)

The Jewish people are complicated.  We are, at once, a people, a nation, whose roots were sunk centuries ago in the land of Israel, but who have been carried by the winds of history across the globe.  Since we were carried off to Babylon 2500 years ago, we have always been the people “who were not from there.”

At the same time, we are a people who carries with it a particular moral and ethical idea, a religious sense and sensibility that Isaiah prayed would make us “a light to the nations.”

The accusation of disloyalty has followed us throughout the centuries, a slander that has stirred persecution, pogrom, expulsion, and massacres.  Ambassador Dr. Deborah Lipstadt, special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism said:  “The dual loyalty canard that has plagued Jews is the fertile soil in which centuries of these stereotypes have taken root and grown.”

In 1807, Napoleon famously convened what came to be known as the Great Sanhedrin, a council of Jewish notables in which among the many questions they were asked: “Do the Jews who are born in France, and have been granted citizenship by the laws of France, truly acknowledge France as their country? Are they bound to defend it, to follow its laws … ?”

Less than 100 years later, Captain Alfred Dreyfus was convicted on bogus charges of treason, his loyalty to France doubted and mocked, all while outside the courthouse people shouted: “Death to the Jews.”

Conspiracy accusations of Jewish disloyalty were used by Hitler to portray Jews as a dangerous fifth column, and by Stalin to purge his enemies.

And today, from the right and the left, we hear the loyalty of Jewish Americans called into question.

How should we respond?  Exactly the way we have been taught from tradition.

Initially, Mordechai told Esther to hide her identity.  And that’s our natural instinct – it’s so much easier to keep quiet and blend in.

But when the loyalty of Persia’s Jews was called into question, he realized this was wrong. Mordechai did not hide but marched straight to the palace.  Loudly and profusely, he professed his pride in his identity.  He refused to compromise his integrity and his beliefs, as a proud and principled Jew and as a loyal citizen of Persia.

And he bade Esther to do the same, to cease in hiding her Jewish identity and to stand up strong and proud for her people.

What Esther and Mordechai teach us today is that the best answer to antisemitism and accusations of disloyalty is not to hide but to loudly and proudly live our lives openly and honestly – fully American and fully Jewish.

Power, they saw, came not through innuendo and stoking hatred and bigotry, but from living with integrity, authenticity, and pursuing the moral and holy path our tradition teaches us to follow.  If we remain true to our allegiances as Americans and as Jews, then we will see as Esther and Mordechai saw, that “the very day on which the enemies of the Jews had expected to overpower them, the opposite happened, and the Jews found power over their enemies.” (Esther 9:1)

Rabbi Dan Levin
Temple Beth El of Boca Raton

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem…”


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