VAYETZEI: The Reasons for Antisemitism

November 25, 2022

From the time of Laban the Aramaean, to Haman and Ahasuerus, and all the way down the the present, we have suffered from antisemites who attempt to harm us. Why do they hate us? And how should we respond?

  1. Laban – The First Antisemite

Jacob works hard for Laban for 21 years, agrees with Laban upon a salary he deserves, and when he gets rich as a result, his brothers-in-law – Laban’s sons – accuse him of getting rich at their expense. (Sources 1-3).

  1. The Jews and the Nations

On one hand, the prophets instructed the Jewish people not to rely on the nations of the world (Source 4). On the other hand, they supported the creation of alliances, and peace-making among the nations (Source 5) and sometimes, they even ordered the Jewish people to bow their heads and pay taxes to the local and regional power (Source 6). How are these two contrasting viewpoints reconciled?

  1. The Reason for Antisemitism

Regarding the story of Haman and Achashverosh, the Talmud teaches a parable about the owner of a field that had a mound of earth in it, and the owner of a second field that had a ditch in it. When the owner of the ditch wanted to pay the owner of the mound for the dirt, he responded: As long as I’m getting rid of it, take it for free.(Source 7).

This parable alludes to the real causes of anti-Semitism. The first one is casual hatred, without any reason. Like a person who has a ‘mound’ in his field, which, although is not harmful, simply bothers him. Why? Just because. The second one: the Jew illustrates to the anti-Semite the ‘void’ in which he – the anti-Semite – lives. As a result of the fact that the nations of the world refused to accept the Torah, they have a feeling of an ’empty pit’, a void. The anti-Semite tries to destroy the Jew in order to silence the trigger that awakens this void.

The reason for the decree was not the stupidity of Achashverosh, nor was it the bravery of Mordechai in standing up to Haman, or any other aspect of the story. All these were the only natural ‘clothing’. The real reason for the decree was that Achshverosh saw the Jewish people as an unnecessary mound in his field, and Haman felt inferior to the Jewish people and was intensely jealous of them.

  1. Fighting Antisemitism

The proper way to deal with the decree is the way Esther did it. She asked Mordechai to announce three days of fasting and prayer to G-d. Only after making sure that the people of Israel were aware that G-d is the true guardian, did she turn to the natural way, the end of which we know very well from the Purim Story.

This is also the answer to the opening question of the lesson (in the second part), why the prophets on the one hand told the Jewish people not to trust the nations and not to rely on their power, but rather to trust G-d almighty, and at the same time, to act in natural and diplomatic way with the powers and empires of the region.



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