If I Forget Thee: Wisdom of Kahana
Life presents us with interesting conundrums. Often we encounter situations that defy logic and run diametrically opposed to basic human nature. For instance, if someone does us harm would it not be best to avoid them and shun them rather than be hurt again? If we are abused, would it not be natural to shout back in defiance? If we are threatened for our lives, would it not be in our own best self-defense that we strike first? We probably have answered yes to all of these questions yet there comes a time when we will not even follow our own basic instincts of what is right and what is wrong. It is a dilemma I have encountered many times and I'm certain most of you have as well. Usually, the episode arises when one of my non-Jewish friends, which include numerous atheists, question why I believe so adamantly in my faith. Why I cling to an ancient ideal that often appears out of place with a modern world. For them, my adherence to Judaism and in particular Karaism makes no sense at all.
Their disbelief usually begins with a simple question; 'Why?' Why would I want to continue to suffer at the hands of a world that has done nothing but torment us from our inception as a people? Why would I adhere to a God that our own scriptures suggests has abandoned us repeatedly? Why would I want to remain steadfast in my loyalties when an event like the Holocaust would permit six million of my people to be obliterated in such an inhumane manner? Why would I wish to bear the brunt of the hatred that led to hundreds of pogroms in Europe that saw us stripped of our lands, our possessions, our children, our lives time and time again for over a thousand years? Why would I want to be an exile in a world that at best tolerates us, but essentially hates us, after our dispersal throughout the nations following the destruction of our country by Rome? Why would I still consider that we have a special place in God's heart after he permitted us to tear our kingdom in two, setting brother against brother, until the North disappeared completely and the South suffered at the hands of one invader after another, Babylonian, Persian, Greek and Roman? And as I was growing up in the sixties of Toronto the Good, where those that beat me as I walked to and from Cheder each day would ask, "Why are you letting us do this to you, why don't you just become one of us?"
They're all good questions, and our basic instincts for survival would suggest they were right. We shouldn't resist, we shouldn't let ourselves suffer any longer but we do, and we have for three thousand years, and in defiance of all supposed logic, we will continue to do so. It is our faith that overrides all that would be deemed as 'common sense' for self-preservation and no one could blame us for doing so, no one except God that is!
The Answer: Because
First of all, it is necessary to examine their questions closely and recognize that though they may ask it simply, they are not simple questions at all. They presume that it is the outside world that has caused all our suffering, the hatred, the anti-Semitism, and the near-genocides. They are wrong. The outside world, the Gentile world, have merely been the tools with effect but never the cause. If we look at the Old Testament, the Torah and Tanakh closely, we will see a different picture. A picture that goes all the way back to Moses and which has never changed. With every Moses there is a Korah, Dathan and Abriram and even a Miriam-Aaron combination to threaten the harmony, the unity of our being. With every judge like Samson, there are Judahites to bind him and deliver him to the Philistines, though we tend to focus on a Delilah. For every issue of Jonathan, a priest of the Danites, there are Benjaminites to slaughter. And every Saul has his David, every Reheboam his Jeraboam. From the onset we were already sowing our seeds of destruction. Our disharmony, our jealousies, our tribal pettiness created a world where we invited our pagan neighbours into our lands to fight our battles, only to never see them leave on their own accord. We fought over mountains, as to which was holier and more deserving of being a site for the Temple, and we fought over families as to whether one who stayed in the land was less deserving than one that went into exile. Our strife knew no end as we even sought to prove that men whom were sheep herders or olive pickers were more deserving of the title of teacher and holy man than those that had been born to the position and hereditarily ordained by God as being such.
And when it came to the great exile at the hands of the Romans, it was two brothers of the Hasmonean family that delivered that final blow, one inviting Pompey into Jerusalem to secure his claim to the throne over that of his brother, when in truth, neither had the right to be king as the Hasmoneans had not a single drop of royal blood in their bodies. And when the Romans could no longer tolerate these upstart kings they placed an Idumean Jew on the throne in their stead and called Herod king. A sinkhole that we dug with our own hands, only to watch it swallow us whole when half of us rejected a call-to-arms in a war we possibly could have won had we stood united, leaving us without a country for almost two thousand years. It was not the Romans that sent us to the four corners of the world, it was our own doing. And while we lived in those foreign lands, we separated ourselves from the people, treating them with disdain, keeping our own faith exclusive and rejecting their attempts to understand and join us. We forged all that we became in that crucible of isolation, while the disdain and hatred poured down upon us like hailstones throughout the centuries. Instead, others took what little they knew of us and forged them into new religions, diluted truths and paganistic rituals that appealed to the masses starving for a pathway to God, only to turn their animosity against us because we held them in contempt. Though they could steal our legacy, they could not buy our birthright for a pot of porridge as we had once done to poor Esau.
The Essential Truth
Only when we recognize that we have been the victims of our own devices can we fully understand why we cling so tenaciously to our beliefs, refusing to abandon them despite the long centuries of suffering. When those that used to try and beat me for being who and what I was recognized that I was not about to scream, nor cry out, they usually broke off their attack, more out of dismay than for any tender mercies. They could not fathom why I refused to toss in my lot with theirs. Of course, once I was older, and a little bigger and stronger than many others, the physical assaults stopped completely but not the verbal assaults. But none of it bothered me any longer because I realized they acted not out of hatred but out of fear. Fear that I possessed something that they would never have, could never have because it was beyond their grasp, their ability to comprehend. I had a three thousand year relationship with God. It transcended fear and it was more valuable than life itself. God did not punish us, He only waited patiently to receive us back with open arms, time after time, even though He knew we would abandon Him and desert Him at some time in the future. It did not matter how many times He revived and restored us, we'd still go astray, fight amongst ourselves, and bring about our own destruction and eterrnal bitterness. After three thousand years, we are still here. The ancient Egyptians are gone, the Assyrians are gone, the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Parthians, Mameluks, Ottomans, Czars, Nazis, and British Empire are all gone. Distant memories with only the merest of traces remaining. They are all dust beneath our feet, crumbled remains of what was once great now humbled by the havoc of time. Yet here we stand, ready for the next three thousand years because we will not succumb to the question 'Why' since we already know the answer.
Something to think about!
Avrom Aryeh-Zuk Kahana
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