Don’t get lost in the wilderness

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Much has been said and written about the galut mentality, the subservience felt by generations of Jews living in the diaspora. As second-class citizens for so many generations in Eastern Europe and in Arab countries, Jews allegedly came to lose their self-esteem. Finally, in our own time, the old ghetto Jew would be replaced with a proud, strong, independent Israeli. No more would Moshke the Jew cower before Poretz the country squire.
by Rabbi Yossy Goldman, Sydenham Shul | Aug 22, 2019

In our parsha (weekly Torah portion), Moses reminds his people not to forget that it was G-d who took them out of Egypt, and led them through the wilderness into the promised land. He describes the wilderness as that great and awesome desert. The problem with this wilderness is that we are impressed by it.

We sometimes forget that the real galut mentality is not necessarily living in a ghetto, but considering the non-Jewish world to be so great. And, once we start attaching greatness to this wilderness, our sense of self-worth is further eroded. We begin considering this wilderness not only as great, but also awesome, even terrifying.

What’s so great and awesome about this outside world, about this wilderness? Why does what the non-Jewish world think so unsettle us? Why do we get so upset, so disturbed by what the world’s media says about us? Why does a cartoonist’s poison pen distress us so? The new Israel was supposed to be different. No more weakness, no more cowardice, gone with the old-world syndrome. So, why do we still care what they say?

Why should I respect a world that has so lost its moral bearings that genocide in Africa or Asia goes unnoticed, and the most immoral country on the globe is an Israel that defends its civilian population from terror? Why should we be intimidated by a world that smiles upon state-sponsored terrorism while heaping abuse upon us? Why does it still pain us when we hear them say we are guilty of disproportionate responses and excessive force? Why do we suffer anxiety attacks every time the United Nations condemns us?

The answer is because the big, wide world is the wilderness we live in. And that wilderness is perceived by us as great and awesome.

But know that this world is nothing but a wilderness – and a moral wilderness at that. The world’s presidents and prime ministers with all their moral indiscretions give us precious little to be overwhelmed about. The princes of the wilderness society are paupers of the spirit.

Anti-Semitism is a fact of life, and the sooner we accept that reality, the healthier and saner we will all be. Wage the diplomatic war; do battle with media bias. Don’t tolerate the blatant hypocrisies. But don’t fret if you fail to turn around public opinion. Remember that the first step in leaving exile is to stop being impressed by it. In order to redeem our land and our people, we must first redeem our souls, and our self-respect.


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