On the eve of Shavuot, the anniversary of the Jews receiving the Torah, it is time to reject once again the Golden Calf of modernity and assimilation.
This Sunday night is the start of the Shavuot holiday commemorating the giving of the Torah by the Almighty to His people, known today as Jews. We all know the story of how when Moses stepped into God’s office to seal the deal of the eternal covenant between Him and His people, negotiations took longer than expected and the people, like an anxious puppy left alone to wait for his master, went through the garbage and shat on the living room carpet.
Since then, by design, staying within the covenant has always been by far the more difficult choice than leaving. When the Eastern Mediterranean came under the sway of Hellenistic culture following the glorious conquests of Alexander the Great, it was easier to speak Greek than Hebrew, more pleasant and more socially acceptable to wear togas, and the bathing rituals and other entertainments of the Greek world were second to none. Many Jews crossed over and were lost. Much more brutal pressures were brought to bear against Jews in the years following the wars with the Romans and the resulting exile. The other monotheistic religions that had sprouted from the roots of old Temple Judaism, Christianity and Islam, could not tolerate Jews as equals because it would negate their claims to being the only true inheritors of the Abrahamic Blessing and the old Covenant.
Once more, the choice to leave was easy: enter a church or a mosque, mumble a few words, and your life was all of a sudden so much better! Many, if not most Jews did just that and were lost forever. In the USSR, marrying a Gentile and taking his or her last name was popular. In America today, dating Gentiles and badmouthing Israel is all it takes to buy a ticket for the exit. And how hard is that?
The expression “Chosen People” is often used by anti-Semites to point out Jewish arrogance and exclusionary attitudes. It’s true, Jews are arrogant and exclusionary. If, as a Jew, you are not, you are on your way out. But that is only a shallow analysis, a “pshat”, an analysis for dummies, as our Sages would have said. The “drash”, the deeper analysis reserved for mavens, for those who understand, is different. Jews are chosen to lead, to spearhead, to illuminate mankind’s way towards choosing the right path, a path that leads to salvation and life eternal. This is infinitely more a curse than a blessing, since no one likes being shown the way, especially by a bunch of people who demonstratively do not care whether you follow them or not, wishing, in fact, that you didn’t.
The act of receiving the Torah and entering the Covenant is called a “burden” in Hebrew. Indeed, following the path of righteousness is a burden, one that is heavier than most humans can bear. It is unlikely that any one of us can bear it, but all of us can choose to try. Most choose not to. A world in which most people choose not to try and even the lay and spiritual leaders reject, like they do today in the West, the fundamental idea of righteousness as a burden, is a doomed world.
In America and in Western Europe, our leaders have all decided that righteousness is born out of instant gratification. Not content with the old forms of debauchery such as sexual deviancy and excess, they invented a new and particularly pernicious one: virtue signaling. Virtue signaling is especially dangerous because it lets everyone feel good about themselves for free. Gone is the righteous satisfaction of giving alms to the poor, nowadays all you have to do is signal your willingness to force someone else to give. Gone is the burden of welcoming the “other” in your own personal home, all you need to do now is post on social media that you love refugees and that borders suck. The leaders of Western Christian denominations and the Reformed, Conservative, and even Orthodox Jewish streams in America are all dealing in this devil’s substitute for doing the right thing.
The first generation of Israelites who fled Egyptian bondage can perhaps be forgiven for their Golden Calf escapade. Born into slavery, alone for the first time in the remote desert with its endless canopy of stars, we can sympathize with their anxiety, with their existential dread that Moses had led them astray that the real God was not the God of Abraham, but Ba’al or Apis, the Egyptian symbol of kingship and fertility who manifests as a bull. You tend to hedge your bets when you are at your wits’ end.
But what is our excuse today? American Jews are hardly in danger of being slaughtered in the immediate future and with millions of them around, with numerous synagogues and JCC’s and Jewish dating websites, what is their excuse for not finding Jewish mates, for not staying in the Covenant? How do they live with themselves having betrayed a hundred generations of their own ancestors who risked their very lives to remain Jews?
What excuses can we all make, Jews and Gentiles alike, for refusing to even acknowledge the path of righteousness, for assiduously following each and every one of our basest instincts, our lowest and most depraved desires?
What I find to be the most sadly ironic of all is that the Jews living in exile today are by far the most secure, the most affluent, and the best educated, at least ostensibly, of any generation in history. Furthermore, they are the first generation of exilic Jews who can make the choice to live in their homeland, Israel, without giving up any of the comforts of modern Western existence. And yet, they are also the most rapidly assimilating and disappearing generation of Jews in two millennia. What further proof does one need of the entrance exam, the character test that God has placed at the threshold to the path of righteousness?
A fundamental law of physics states that all natural systems follow the path of least resistance leading to the state of lowest energy and highest entropy, in other words, to death ad oblivion. Nature is a champion of recycling, of creative destruction. God has given us a choice, unique in the universe, to resist the temptation of this path and chose the path of maximum resistance, a path that leads to life. As He had always intended, only a few among us will make that choice.
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