I had been called for jury duty. As I walked into the courthouse, I had no idea what I would hear or see. My briefcase contained holy books and some food. Who knew how long I might have to stay here? I took pains to present an appearance that would properly represent G-d. At least I could try to honor His Name in this challenging environment.
At the security line, they put my briefcase through the x-ray machine. Then I was directed toward Sergeant McDonogh. On my first pass through the metal detector, the buzzer went off. I told the sergeant that maybe the slide on my suspenders was setting it off. He looked at me with a big smile and waved me through.
“You,” he said, “we are not worried about!”
Amazing! He was saying, in effect, that, since I am a religious Jew, he himself felt secure in my presence! Then he took me by the arm and started walking with me, directing me with great respect and making sure I was headed to the right room. I thanked him and I thanked G-d for enabling me to bring His Name into esteem among the nations.
This week, the Jewish People receives the Torah from the King of the Universe. This is the greatest moment in history since the Creation of the world, the moment when the Master of the Universe speaks directly to flesh and blood.
“One of the rabbis asked Rav Kahana: ‘Have you ever heard the meaning of the name ‘Mount Sinai?’…. He told Rav Kahana that … Rav Chisda and Rabbah brai d’Rav Huna both said: ‘It means the mountain upon which G-d’s hatred – ‘sinah’ – to idolaters descended’” (Shabbos 89a). Artscroll comments: “Hatred to idolaters is also interpreted as the hatred idolaters feel towards Jews. The deep-rooted source of anti-Semitism is the Revelation at Sinai.”
Maimonides says: “By means of His Torah, G-d has distinguished us from the rest of mankind. As it says, ‘It was only with your ancestors that G-d developed a closeness. He loved them and therefore chose you, their descendants from among all nations’ (Deuteronomy 10:15) …. G-d made us special through His laws and decrees. The other nations recognize our superiority…. As a result, the nations of the world became terribly envious of us. Because of the Torah, all the kings of the earth stirred up hatred and jealousy against us. Their real intention is to make war against G-d, but no one can oppose the Al-Mighty. Ever since Mount Sinai, every non-Jewish king … has made it his first objective to destroy the Torah…” (Letter to Yemen)
Maimonides is telling us that all anti-Semitism is hatred of G-d, but it is directed against us, because the nations know that we represent G-d in this world. The descendants of Ishmael and Esau all recognize our special status. We do ourselves a terrible disservice if we believe that they are “like us.” They are not like us. They either hate us for our greatness or, in unusual cases, they value and respect us for it. Most are in the former category, as we know from the famous dictum, “Halacha hi b’yadua sh’Eisav sone l’Yaakov… It is a given fact that … Esau hates Jacob” (Rashi on Genesis 33:4).
But if we act with allegiance to Torah, the hatred of the nations will be neutralized. On the verse, “Hakol kol Yaakov … the voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are Esau’s hands…” (Genesis 27:22), the Midrash comments, “when the voice [i.e. religious observance] of Jacob is weak, then Esau’s hands have dominion, but … when the voice of Jacob rings out [in fulfillment of the Torah], Esau’s hands cannot overpower him” (Bereishis Rabbah 65:16).
This statement has cosmic repercussions.
“All the heathens assembled before one of their wise men and asked him, ‘Do you think that we can subjugate this people?’ He answered, ‘Go around to their synagogues and schools … If you find children with voices uplifted, you cannot subjugate them!” (ibid)
We think that we are powerless against our enemies, but we are so mistaken! We have the means to save ourselves, but we have to understand where that power lies. It is not in politics or in the sword. “The Zohar says: When a person immerses himself in Torah study for it’s own sake, it is as if he were standing at Mount Sinai receiving the Torah, as it says, ‘Today [with the giving of all the commandments] you have become a nation’ (Deuteronomy 27:9) … Just as at the giving of the Torah, Israel attached themselves to G-d’s word, so too at the present, whenever a person reflects on Torah thoughts, he attaches himself to G-d’s word, because he is learning the words G-d transmitted to Moses. Therefore, even today, when a person is learning Torah … he is considered as receiving it on Sinai” (Nefesh Hachaim, Shaar 4, Perek 14).
Sergeant McDonogh responded to the Torah he saw in a Jew. It is vital to remember that we are the only link non-Jews have to Eternity, to G-d. If we give them the opening to see holiness in our behavior, then we are honoring G-d’s Name as well as protecting ourselves and bringing hope and redemption to the world.
G-d says in this week’s Torah portion, “You shall be to Me a kingdom of ministers and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). If we fulfill our role as His emissaries, then the world will suddenly change, and we will soon, “for a second time, in the presence of all the living, hear the words we have all been awaiting: ‘I am G-d, your G-d!” (Shabbos Mussaf Kedusha prayer)