What Is Wrong with Self Hating Jews?

There is one word that screams out volumes of psychological insight into Joseph's brothers. After their father Jacob had passed away, the brothers convince themselves that Joseph was going to seek revenge. They said amongst themselves, "Perhaps (lu) Joseph will now hate us and return the evil that we did to him upon us." They then send a message to Joseph in the name of their deceased father begging him to forgive them. When they come before him, they throw themselves on the ground and proclaim, "We will now be your slaves." Joseph cries when he hears this. He reiterates that they should feel no guilt, that this was God's plan to save an entire nation.

The word is "lu," which is translated as meaning "perhaps." In truth, this word is never used to mean perhaps other than here. Usually, it means "would that it were so!" It is an expression of wishing! A subtext here is that the brothers actually desired Joseph to take revenge upon them. Indeed, the distasteful scene where they throw themselves on the floor and offer themselves as slaves indicates a desire on their part to get back what they gave. They wanted Joseph to take revenge, for some deep psychological reason. What was it?

I remember encountering this unhealthy feeling when visiting one of the concentration camps in Poland. As we left Birkenau, the friend I was traveling with made an extraordinary comment. "Why do we deserve to be able to walk out of here alive and free?" Had we been there in the early 1940s, we probably would have been murdered.

I was taken aback by the question. I understood it, and the underlying mindset bothered me greatly. Our living a normal life should not have been the question. The question should have been "How was it that they could not walk out of here alive and free?" The question he asked almost assumed that Jew hatred was normal, that Auschwitz was the way things should have been. I'm sure he didn't mean this, but some element of it was implicit in that question.

The brothers were seized by guilt, about that there is no question. But had they properly and completely reconciled with Joseph? No, they had not. Why? Because they could not forgive themselves. That is strange, too. If Joseph had not shown any grudge towards them, why did they show it towards themselves? If Joseph seemingly forgave them, why could they not forgive themselves?

Perhaps it is because they never understood what it means to be a brother. They never understood what it means to be part of the human race. They saw Joseph's dreaming and favoritism as a threat to themselves. It was a zero sum game, and if Joseph was the victor, then they must be the vanquished. They could not conceive of a win-win situation, and therefore Joseph has to take revenge upon them. They are almost begging him to do so! This is because it is harder for a person to change his worldview than it is to become enslaved in Egypt. Internal slavery, to a mistaken ideology, is much harder to escape.

There is an astounding quote attributed to the ancient sage, Hillel. "If I am here, everything is here. If I am not here, who is here?" On the surface, this saying seems extremely egotistical! That is diametrically opposed to Hillel's modest and pleasant demeanor. What does it mean?

My teacher, Rabbi Ahron Soloveitchik, ZT"L, explains its brilliance. "Here" is a physical location that must be defined by other physical locations. There is no place that is disconnected from the rest of the universe. If I say I'm on Main Street, I must define Main Street as being in the town of Pleasantville, in the state of New York, in the country of America, on the continent of North America, on the planet Earth, in the solar system, etc...

So it is with us as people. We are defined by our relationships to other people. In Judaism, a person's name always includes their parents name. Family names are simply based on either ancestry or a town or a profession. Everything about us is defined by where we fit in in the universe. What Hillel is teaching us, then, is a very powerful lesson. We must define ourselves by our place in the world. No one else can occupy our place, "if I am not here, who is here?"

That entails a deep responsibility. Rabbi Akiva taught us that the main rule of the Torah is "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." In order to love our neighbors, we must love ourselves. And in order to love ourselves, we must realize that we are of tremendous value to our neighbors. We must know that we are the creations of God, and we alone occupy our space in the universe. If we set to ourselves the task of improving our neighborhood, of uplifting and helping all who come in our contact, 24/7, for a whole lifetime, we are fulfilling the core of the Torah. According to Hillel, a human being must love themselves and use their space to share that love with the rest of the universe.

There are two aspects of human behavior that are required: turn away from evil, and do good deeds. There is the carrot and the stick. There is justice, which is the righting of wrongs, and there is kindness which is seeking out to do good. The former is cause and effect, and has value in keeping society from anarchy. But it limits each person to their own space, and disconnects them from the rest of the universe. "As long as I don't hurt you, you won't hurt me."

How does this relate to Joseph and the brothers? Joseph brothers were stuck at the level of "Turn away from evil." They lived disconnected from their brother, and really wouldn't have minded had he kept to himself. But Joseph saw his role as being a font of good, and he interpreted his own dreams of leadership as being for the benefit of the family, and of mankind. That is why he told the brothers his dreams, because he really believed he was giving good news for them as well. He was sharing a win-win vision with people who lived in a zero sum world. The result was the tragic sale of Joseph.

So even when they were again reunited in Egypt, the brothers had not significantly changed that internal feeling. "There must be revenge, we must become slaves, because otherwise our zero sum world makes no sense!," the may have thought. If they would only internalize Hillel's message. If the brothers would say to themselves, "yes, even Joseph's sale was a good thing, it saved an entire nation," their guilt would disappear. It wouldn't even occur to them that Joseph should seek revenge. They would see in Joseph a true partner for fixing the world.

And that is the lesson for the self hating Jews. They are stuck in the world of guilt, of needing to feel hated and persecuted. They can't understand how the world could recognize that the Jewish people, unlike any other nation, lives to make the world a better place. It is ironic that we are accused of the exact opposite of what we actually do. We are more humane, more concerned about the value of human life than anyone, yet the same self haters are blind to this and accuse us of the opposite, of cruelty.

When every Jew, indeed when every human being, says to himself, "how can I improve all of those with whom I have contact?", the world will be on its way towards healing.

Macabbees, settlers, zealots and successful rebellions

The Bible tells the tragic story of Joseph and his brothers. There is one character who plays a critical role in the whole story, but is hardly mentioned. This is none other than the angel Gabriel. Where, you may ask, does Gabriel come into the picture? He's the guy that gives directions.

You see, Jacob had sent his favorite son, Joseph, to check up on his other sons who were away with the flocks. Joseph travels north, and can't find them. According to the Bible, a "man" finds Joseph wandering lost in the field. He asks him what he wants, and Joseph says he's looking for his brothers. The "man" proceeds to give Joseph directions. End of story. Without that man, Joseph might not have found the brothers, and might never have been sold into Egyptian slavery. The whole thing could have been completely different.

Earlier in the Torah, we met another such "Man." This was the man whom Jacob fought with before his confrontation with his brother, Esau. However, that "man" is not identified as the angel Gabriel. Instead, he is identified as the guardian angel of Esau.

How do the sages know that one "man" is the angel Gabriel, while the other is the guardian angel of Esau? What was the difference?

A Hasidic rabbi gave a somewhat lighthearted answer, which is not so lighthearted at all. He pointed out that the "man" whom Jacob struggled with was in a hurry to leave Jacob and fly back to heaven in order to sing the praises of God. Jacob had to force him to remain and give him a blessing. In other words, this angel put singing God's praises ahead of helping another being.

Contrast that with the "man" who meets Joseph. He is willing to help, has the patience to give directions and be of service to another being. Thus, the "good" angel Gabriel is always willing to help out. His own songs of praise can wait. The other "man" disdains helping others, especially if it interferes with his own service of God. That is the guardian angel of Esau. Esau was someone who took care of number one. He saw the world is there to take care of him, and did not see himself as there to take care of the world.

I believe that is the difference between the two revolts. In the first case, the Maccabees represented the silent majority of the people. Most of the Jews were appalled by the open anti-Semitism of the Syrian Greeks. They had defiled the temple, forbidden observance of circumcision and the Sabbath. They put an altar to Zeus right in the Jewish Temple. Even the less religious among the Jews were appalled. Only the completely assimilated elites identified with Antiochus and the Syrian Greeks.

Thus, their rebellion reflected the will of the majority, silent or otherwise, of the Jewish people. They were connected to their fellows and not focused on their own particular spiritual interests.

In the second Temple, however, the main rebels were a minority in their own people. They were known as zealots, and in one tragic incident burned the food supplies in Jerusalem in order to force their fellow Jews to do battle with the Romans.

Now, there is no doubt that the Romans were an oppressive power. However, they did not stop the Temple service as the Syrian Greeks had two centuries before. They did not ban Judaism. There were still sages and Torah study amongst the people. One of the great leaders was rabbi Jochanan ben Zakai, who urged accommodation with Rome. He did not want to see the bloodshed of an unnecessary battle, and feared it would bring great tragedy on the people. And history was soon to speak.

So in this second revolt, the main rebels were disconnected from their fellows. They did not have unity of support. Instead, they forced themselves on the people. Like the guardian angel of Esau, they put their focus on themselves. They wanted a certain type of spirituality, and everyone else be damned. Our sages claim that the second Temple was destroyed because of the sin of baseless hatred. I suspect that this is what they referred to.

So in order for the Jewish people to strengthen their homeland, they must be unified. I think it is of prime importance that the so-called "settlers," the Jewish residents of the ancient lands of Judea and Samaria, reach out to all Israelis and Jews worldwide. Instead of appearing to the less connected as being fanatics and zealots, they must make those Jews understand who they really are. They are fine, peace-loving, ethical citizens who would love nothing more than to have peace and friendship with their Arab neighbors. (Of course there are fanatics on every side of the map, but they do not represent the masses of people -- unless they seize power.)

In other words, they need to work like the Maccabees, to inspire the entire nation. It's a tough job. The best way to do it is through personal contacts. We need to talk to each other. We need to have a dialogue. We need to be guests in each other's homes. We need to visit the communities of Judea and Samaria, and see firsthand just who lives there!

Dialogue, connection, understanding, and unity will be the secrets of our success.