WHY DO THEY HATE US?
Why do they hate us? It seems a popular question these days.
Why do they hate us? It seems a popular question these days. After Sept 11, lots of Americans began asking it. Jews, of course, have been asking it since Isaac was chased from well to well a few thousand years ago. This past week, Jews again asked the question -- our enemies killed 40 Jews in 7 days.
So, why do they hate us?
In both the U.S. and Israel there are two camps. The first says they hate us because of what we represent -- freedom and justice and goodness. The second camp says they hate us because we oppress them -- in Gaza, in Somalia, in Nicaragua, and so on. This week's Torah portion offers a very compelling third answer.
Joseph was, in many ways, the fourth patriarch. The story of the Jewish people follows his history. He is sent into exile, he becomes a court Jew, he is slandered and eventually, through the help of Hashem, he rises to the top. It is an inspiring story of an inspiring person, but we still have to ask: why was he exiled? Or, more specifically, why did his brothers hate him?
Joseph was obviously his father's favorite. He was sharp as a tack and whenever his brothers did something wrong he was sure to tell their father. We've all known people like this and we dislike them. Sometimes, we call them teachers' pets. It isn't their fault, but the fact is, we're jealous of them. They seem to have everything, and to make matters worse, they point out our own flaws. Joseph's brothers were exactly the same. Joseph's brothers were jealous and they resented being corrected. Their feelings might not have been pretty, but they were perfectly understandable.
However, what is harder to understand is how that dislike turned into hate.
Can you honestly imagine wanting to lock the teacher's pet into a room full of hungry rats, leaving him to die? If you can imagine this, you may have more serious problems. Nonetheless, this is exactly what Joseph's brothers did. What triggered this turn for the worse? When does dislike and jealously become hate? Well, if we take a look at the Torah's narrative we see one scene, almost immediately before Joseph's brothers toss him into the pit. In this scene, Joseph tells his brothers his dream about being superior to them. That, naturally, pushes the brothers over the edge.
We face a similar challenge today. The Jewish people, and America to some extent, seem to be favored by the world. When they try to annihilate us, we survive -- when they allow us to live, we flourish. The world, or Hashem if you prefer, seems to favor us, and the other nations are jealous.
The Philistines try to chase away Isaac because he was a successful farmer where they weren't. They were jealous and refuse to swallow their pride -- preferring to kill the object of their envy. In addition to inspiring jealously, Isaac, the Jewish people and America all seem to criticize the world. They all seem to say, "we have a better way to do it." This is comparable to Joseph's reporting his brothers to their father. It is perfectly understandable that the rest of the world resents us. Not only do we seem to have it better, we seem to criticize the other nations.
However, Sept 11, this week’s suicide bombings, and the war against Israel are more than resentment -- they are overwhelming hatred.
Why do they hate us?
They hate us because we push them over the edge. We dream. America dreams of leading the world, of making the world like itself. And the Jewish people dream of Zion. The Jewish people dream of living in Zion, and of being preeminent among the nations. The other nations already dislike us; these dreams make them hate us.
So, what can we do?
Before continuing, I have to admit that I have some experience in this area. I was the teacher’s pet the one year I went to elementary school. I was the kid who mastered the tests and I was the kid who told on the other kids. For half the school year I led a small gang -- and in one devastating day they all turned against me. The pain of getting beat up wasn't half as bad as the pain of betrayal. That still hurts. And, like everyone in my family, I dreamed. The kids didn't want to kill me, but they certainly didn't like me. Indeed, I thought the moniker "teacher's pet" was something to be proud of. In short, I was ver similar to my namesake, Joseph. On that particular Shabbat, when my family discussed this Torah portion, I bore the brunt of the unfavorable commentary.
And guess what? I'm still alive and I'm still dreaming. Come to think of it, Joseph lived too, he became the CEO of Egypt and realized his dreams.
So, we must ask, what's the secret? How do you turn hatred (or strong dislike on the playground) into friendship?
You have to recognize other people's abilities and talents. Everybody, no matter what their talents or situation, can build a beautiful life. There is a guy I know, who as far as I can tell, is better at everything than I am. He's brilliant, artistic, the women love him, etc.... and above all that, he's a really nice guy and everybody likes him. That includes me. And I think I know why. You see, he grew up with a brother who was mentally ill. Growing up, he had to learn how to respect and love someone who, to put it bluntly, balanced the intelligence scale for him. Simple though they may be, mentally ill people can live lives of beauty that outstrip the lives of great men. Who is better -- the CEO who makes billions of dollars or the mentally ill fellow who holds down a supermarket job? The answer depends entirely on the gifts G-d has given them. The CEO might have been given gifts that enabled him to accomplish much more, in which case he is a failure. The mentally ill individual might be pushing his limits in every way to be a good and accomplished person, and he might just be the greatest success of his generation. And guess what, often when you recognize other people's talents and you learn to honestly and truly respect them -- they can't help but return the favor.
When looking at this from the perspective of the Jewish nation, we have to recognize that every nation has something to offer -- every nation has the opportunity to succeed with the gifts they have been given. We have to respect the other nations and realize, that with our "G-d's pet" status, the bar for us might be higher, but the successes of the other nations are no less magnificent. Even if we accomplish more than any other nation, we can't judge the world and determine that we are better. They don't have our gifts.
A MATTER OF STRENGTH
Furthermore, when we recognize other's talents, they learn to focus less on our gifts and to recognize the strengths we see in them. The second method of minimizing their hatred of us centers on reforming those who hate us. Joseph failed to reveal himself. Beyond that, he charged his own brothers with crimes they did not commit. Why? One answer is that he was reforming his brothers. His brothers had committed two major crimes. First, out of jealously they had exiled him. Second, they lied to their father about what happened. Joseph addressed each of these character flaws and strengthened his brothers. By making them bow, he forced them to swallow their pride. And by accusing them of cheating, he built up their honesty.
This has a tremendous amount of significance for the Jewish nation. We are to be a light unto the nations. It is our job not just to respect the other nations, but to show them a better way. We aren't to erase their gifts and talents, just as Joseph didn't erase those of his brother, but we are to minimize their faults and mistakes. We are to show them that no matter what their strengths, there is good and evil and that they must use their talents for good. The mentally ill individual might be very strong. With that strength, he can either help little old ladies move pianos, or he can beat them up. The CEO might be rich and powerful. With that strength, he can either give to charity and use his talents to add wealth to the world or he can bankrupt people, steal from others, and attempt to destroy them. It is our job to teach the world that they should use their talents for good. This can make them swallow their jealousy and hatred and focus on their missions.
CAUTION: HATRED MAY PERSIST
But you know what? Even if you're trying hard to accomplish things with your life, even if you respect other people, and even if you try your hardest to teach them to be good, some of them will still dislike you. As this Torah portion shows, because of your dreams others will still hate you. So, are we as a people to dispose of our dreams in an effort to make our enemies happy? Are we to toss out Israel in order to satisfy the jealous desires of the Palestinians? Absolutely not. Our dreams of Zion and of a better world are what make us Jews just as Joseph's dreams are no small part of what made him Joseph. So how do we deal with these people? How do we treat those who insist on jealousy and hatred. Sent away from his father, Joseph, always deriving his strength from Hashem, learned how to take care of himself. Even in prison he was a success. Some of the other nations may hate us, even as we make every attempt to accord them respect, to recognize their talents and accomplishments and to teach them to use their own talents for the good. They will hate us because we are "G-d's pets" and we dream of something better.
So how do we deal with these people?
Like Joseph we learn to derive strength from Hashem. All our strength lies in Hashem. Even as they kill us, we turn to him for strength.
As a nation, we Jews have to pray to Hashem -- we have to ask for His help. And, for those times when it doesn't come, we have to learn to take care of ourselves. The fact in Israel is that our attempts to respect the Palestinians have failed to make the Palestinians our friends. They still hate us, they still send their young men to kill our school kids. We want to live in harmony and friendship with those who can get over their own jealousy, but we can't do anything about being "G-d's pets" and we can never afford to sacrifice our dreams.
So we're stuck in a precarious situation. There are those who can't accept our dreams. There are those who are committed to destroying Israel because it is the first baby step in our ultimate dream and because they can't suppress their own jealousy enough to appreciate and use their own gifts for the good. If those people won't leave us alone, and in Israel they won't, we must pray for protection and strength from Hashem.
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