By: Yochanan Gordon
A candidate for public office once visited Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum of Satmar in Williamsburg. The candidate was making the case that he would be a good advocate for the Jewish community and added that he is a staunch supporter of Israel. The Rebbe’s gabbaim and the PR people within Satmar who were there at the time looked on to see how the Satmar Rebbe would react to the politician’s support of the Medinah that Satmar adamantly opposed. The Rebbe smiled and expressed his admiration for the candidate’s support on the local and international level, and with that, the meeting ended.
Following the meeting, the curious Chassidim asked the Rebbe why he was so accepting of the politician’s support for the state of Israel. He replied: “A Jew could have theological issues with an anti-religious state in the land of Israel. However, a gentile who expresses dislike for the Jewish state is plainly and purely an antisemite.
This isn’t as much an article about Ye, formerly Kanye West, as it is about all antisemites. Ye is the latest celebrity to express his frustration in antisemitic terms and has subsequently been dropped by his music producer, Vogue, Balenciaga. Addidas, a company with a long Nazi history, and the producers of West’s famous sneaker Yeezy were the latest to acquiesce to the international pressure to cut ties with West.
Thankfully, the world at large is outraged at the hateful, insensitive, and illogical drivel spewed by Ye West over the last couple of weeks. Projections that his disgraceful remarks would shake sleeping antisemites out of their doldrums rang true this week when a “Kanye West was right about the Jews” banner was hung from a Los Angeles freeway.
However, it remains to be seen if the music star, businessman, and aspiring politician will recognize the damage his remarks have caused and publicly express remorse for them. However, because the purpose of this column is to uncover the inner reality of all things in Torah, as well as throughout the news headlines and the world at large, I will stray from the outward treatment of this story and move inward to analyze the root of the hatred and discontent expressed by Ye and all antisemites across the world.
One of the core issues at the heart of the leadup to the Mabul was the level of responsibility that Noach bore on behalf of humanity. Hashem had commanded him to build an ark for one hundred and twenty years so that the people take notice, return from their sinful ways, and ultimately avoid extinction.
Noach is ultimately reprimanded for his passivity and apathy concerning the fate of humankind that lay mainly in his hands. It was a misdeed that the Arizal teaches us was only rectified by Moshe when he refused Hashem’s offer to lead a new nation and instead asked that his name be removed from the Torah. This leads to a question- what role do we as Jews play in the destiny of the world? As society continues to spiral morally and ethically further into the abyss; do we have the right to turn a blind eye to the plight of the world and just worry about ourselves, our families, and our communities, or does the fate of the world lie squarely on our shoulders the way that it did upon Noach’s shoulders in his era?
The Rambam writes that Hashem instructed Moshe to influence the world in their fulfillment of the Noachide laws, not due to its sound logic and moral underpinnings but out of fealty to Hashem’s commandment enjoining them in its fulfillment. Hashem’s involvement with the world shifted with the giving of the Torah on Sinai. Our forefathers Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov studied the Torah and performed mitzvos before the giving of the Torah too. Why, then, was there a need for a formal giving of the Torah? Prior to the giving of the Torah, heaven was the domain of spirituality, and earth was the domain of physicality. As Rudyard Kipling famously wrote in his poem ‘The Ballad of East and West’- “Never the Twain Shall Meet.” At the giving of the Torah, Hashem descended upon the mountain, and Moshe ascended the mountain ending a history of alienation between heaven and earth and the beginning of a partnership to bring the light of Hashem upon the dark, coarse and opaque earth.
In other words, the physical reality used by our forefathers to fulfill the mitzvos before the Torah could be discarded because spirituality could not become invested within the physical reality. Therefore, the mitzvos that we were instructed to keep from the giving of the Torah and on had to be reaccepted on account of the relationship that had become possible from that moment and on. However, what difference does it make, from the vantage point of the nations of the world, whether they fulfill the Noachide Laws on a moral-ethical basis or in expressing fealty to the commandment of Hashem in the Torah?
The answer lies in the distinction between the Jewish intellectual soul, known as nefesh hasichlis, and the standard nefesh hasichlis, both of which the Mishna in Avos states that Hashem loves all of humankind on account of. Before we get to the distinction, another question is in order. What relevance does Hashem’s love of all humanity alongside that of the Jewish people have with tractate Avos, whose purpose is to serve as an ethical guide, particularly to the Jews who are commanded in the study of all of Torah, including that of the Oral Torah which this teaching is situated within?
The standard soul is influenced by the world that it is situated within. The world on its own seems to be an autonomous existence. As such, secular subjects studied by the nations and used towards achieving success within this world continue to cover up Hashem’s existence and promote humankind’s preeminence. The Jewish soul, by contrast, is a composite of the world we live in but is uniquely sensitive to Hashem’s spiritual and ethereal characteristics, which temper its physical elements in sight of the Godly aura that hovers above it. This explains how the same soul could lead humankind down the abyss while simultaneously elevating the Jews in the direction of spirituality, as Koheles states. As a result of this, although Hashem loves humanity on account of His image that they were created in; the only way that they can activate that soul and elicit Hashem’s love is through the Jewish people influencing them in the fulfillment of the Noachide Laws, again, not out of a sense of logic and morality but out of fealty to the command of Hashem in the Torah.
This teaching is inserted, seemingly uncharacteristically, in the Oral Torah side by side with the Mishna, which states: “An increased measure of love was expressed to the Jews who were created in Hashem’s image” to communicate to us that it is our responsibility to influence the nations of the world to follow the commandments given to the children of Noach. Moshe sacrificed his entire life to rectify Noach’s mishap of allowing the world to recede into oblivion instead of rising to the occasion and making a difference.
The prevailing attitude among observant Jews who are meant to use their loyalty and dedication to the Torah to be a light to the nation is that we have enough of our own problems internally to deal with before taking on the world’s problems. The Lubavitcher Rebbe once advised someone seeking a cure for her chronic depression to spend her time volunteering for an organization that addresses the needs of others. The Rebbe wrote: “The more you think about others, the less time you will have to think about yourself, which is the cause of your depression.” Perhaps the answer to the issues plaguing us as a community is that we are too self-centered and not focused enough on fulfilling our role in society at large.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe was handily critiqued for spearheading a Teshuva movement which was seen as taking Jews out of the Beis Medrash and into the streets. The criticism was compounded by his call to fulfill the dictate of the Rambam to ensure that the nations of the world perform the Noachide commandments. The complaint resulted from a misunderstanding of the role of the Jew within society. Had we understood that, like Noach before us, we were placed within a hostile world to steer society in the right direction, and we actually would have followed suit, perhaps the world which continues its freefall into oblivion would look even a little different.
Perhaps this is the root of the hateful remarks of Ye and Jew haters worldwide- they are waking us up to the fact that we have neglected them in worrying solely about ourselves. In an interview a few months ago on the Meaningful People Podcast, Ben Shapiro, founder of the Daily Wire and host of “The Ben Shapiro Show”, challenged its listeners to broadcast Torah values and ideas to a world that is desperately seeking a moral-ethical direction. Recently, in a youtube video addressed to Kanye West, Chassidic YouTuber Shloime Zionce called on the celebrity to accept his invitation to meet observant Jews throughout New York and to meet face to face with Torah observant Jews whom he has unknowingly pointed his hate towards without knowing.
Our internal problems pale in comparison to what is going on in the world today. The most troubled Jew can be a beacon of light to the most educated non-Jew. Let us start to pay attention to a world that is deficient of Hashem’s light, and together we can end Jew-hatred and all spirits of intolerance with the coming of Moshiach and a new dawn for civilization!