Dear Jew in the City-
When it comes to supporting Israel or speaking out against antisemitism, I see some Jews who seem to be throwing us under the bus. On the one hand we are supposed to focus on Jewish unity, and on the other, four-fifths of the Jewish nation didn’t make it out of Egypt. At what point do we give up on our Jewish brethren who seem so far gone on any allegiance to the Jewish people?
Thanks for your question. Before I answer it, I’d like to explain what you mean when you say that “four-fifths didn’t make it out of Egypt.” Exodus 13:18 says that the Jews left Egypt armed; the word for armed in Hebrew is “chamushim,” which resembles the word for five (chamesh). The Mechilta of Rabbi Yishmael, cited by Rashi on this verse, offers another explanation: only one-fifth of the Jews left Egypt. The other four-fifths died during the plague of darkness because they were unworthy of being redeemed.
Now, I’m not a midrashic literalist. I don’t consider every midrash to be a history lesson. Some might be but we don’t know which and there’s nothing heretical about choosing to take a midrash as allegorical. So did four-fifths of the Jews literally die in Egypt or is Rabbi Yishmael’s wordplay simply meant to impart a moral lesson? I don’t know and it doesn’t matter. So take that midrash as literally or as allegorically as you choose.
Either way, I’m not quite clear what this has to do with your question, which is, “I see some Jews that seem to be throwing us under the bus right now. … At what point do we give up on our Jewish brethren who seem so far gone on any allegiance to the Jewish people right now?” What does four-fifths of the Jews dying in Egypt have to do with that? Are you saying that they lacked allegiance to the Jewish people? Or perhaps that our ancestors gave up on them? Or that they should have given up on them? In short, I’m not sure what this tangent is meant to add to your question.
As for your question itself – “At what point do we give up on our Jewish brethren who seem so far gone on any allegiance to the Jewish people right now?” – well, that’s easy.
We never give up.
The Talmud in Brachos (10a) tells us that King Chizkiyahu said to the prophet Yeshayahu, “Even if a sharp sword is resting on a person’s neck, he shouldn’t stop praying for (God’s) mercy.” Even then, all hope is not lost.
Things can always turn around and that change can happen in an instant.
Practically speaking, this doesn’t mean that we should never walk away from a losing situation. If your stocks are tanking, it’s okay to sell. If you’ve spoken to someone repeatedly about changing their behavior and they’ve been unresponsive, it’s okay to cease nagging rather than risk alienating them altogether. But you should never give up hope that things can change, and you should keep on davening. (This is especially true in spiritual matters.)
Giving up on people is not encouraged. The prophet Elisha had a student named Gechazi, who was truly irredeemable. Nevertheless, Elisha is criticized for “pushing Gehazi away with both hands” rather than using one to push him away and the other to draw him near (Sotah 47a). The scholar Yehoshua ben Prachya is criticized for the same thing (ibid.).
And, of course, God doesn’t give up on us. As we say in the Yom Kippur liturgy, “You wait for a person until his dying day and if he repents, You immediately accept him” (HaPoseiach Shaar l’Dofkei b’Teshuvah). Since God judges us the way we judge others, I think this is a pretty good indicator that we shouldn’t give up on one another.
Of course, being willing to accept change, no matter how late in coming, is not the same as micromanaging it. God accepts our repentance but He doesn’t force it upon us. Similarly, we should be open to others coming around to our way of thinking but we have to realize that the choice is up to them. (It should be noted that others think that their way is right and you’re the one who’s way off-base!)
So keep on hoping for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Keep on hoping that people will stop boycotting Israel as a thinly-veiled anti-Semitic gesture. Keep on hoping that misguided Jews will stop perpetuating myths that demonize the IDF and justify Hamas. Of course, you should take any concrete steps possible to effect change but when that fails, never give up turning to God.
The prophet Yirmiyahu tells us that God is our hope (Jeremiah 17:13). In Yaakov’s blessing to his son Dan, he exclaimed, “I hope for Your salvation, Hashem!” (Genesis 49:18). The Ramban there explains that it is only through God that we can be helped. So always do what you can, and when you can’t – keep your hope alive.
We never give up hope.
Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
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