(We received this comment in response to a recent Thought Tool, Egypt Made Me Do It, discussing the Biblical message not to focus on past evils. We felt that it was a worthy question for this format.)
I respectfully do not at all understand your belief that Jews do not focus on the past problems but focus on the future.
I love Jewish people and study the Bible through your perspective but it seems Jewish people and suffering go together like a dog and his bone.
I see many movies and TV shows, there are holy days reminding us of your suffering, and it seems one cannot talk about Jewish issues without bringing up the Holocaust.
I’m not criticizing this observation and I do not feel it’s wrong, but to say Jews look toward to the future and do not think of the horrors of the past is just not so. Anyway that’s my take. Love your instruction and guidance as you have opened my eyes to truth and understanding.
We appreciate your response and imagine that it is shared by many who may be less willing than you to pose challenging questions to us. We based that Thought Tool, as we do all our teachings, on God’s wisdom. Sadly, we human beings, and certainly Jews, often fail to follow His wisdom.
Imagine a future archeologist reports that 60% of American Jews of the early 21st century were registered Democrats. Does this mean that being a Democrat is a Jewish value? Of course not. Just because many Jews do something means it is average but not normal or necessarily correct. Most of the Jews chose not to leave Egypt with Moses but it was the wrong decision.
Many Jews have bought into the current corruption of politics by trying to profit from victimology. Many Jewish organizations have done the same. None of this means that this reprehensible behavior is a Jewish value.
We do want to correct a misconception you have. You wrote that there are holy days reminding us of Jewish suffering. The overwhelming majority of special days in the Jewish calendar (including the weekly Sabbath) are days of joy and gratitude. Even when a holiday includes mention of suffering, such as Passover, the focus is on celebrating redemption, not on the painful years. In fact, many religious Jews opposed the creation of a Holocaust Memorial day (which is a secular, not religious day), because there is one specified and limited period in the year (of three weeks duration that builds in intensity) when God’s directive is for us to focus on painful events. This is when we review the destruction of both Temples, the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, pogroms and massacres. Even there, we don’t concentrate on revenge or victimhood. The three weeks are a time for mourning but even more importantly, for examining ourselves and recognizing that we ourselves are often the root cause of our suffering.
We also did not say that Jews do not focus on the past but more on the future. The Torah is constantly drawing a line from past through the present and to the future. We said that God advises us not to focus on the suffering of the past as the cause of problems we are having. We are not to spend our time blaming difficulties we are having on those who persecuted us or concentrating on only the bad done to us. Rather we must learn an attitude of gratitude for whatever good there might have been.
The Holocaust was devastating to the Jewish nation and to countless Jewish families. We certainly aren’t suggesting at all that one should forget about past horrors. This has nothing to do with making movies or building museums. It certainly has nothing to do with getting into an “I’m a bigger victim than you,” race. There is a tipping point where that becomes the focus and when, rather than being positive, it becomes a trap. Many years ago, secular Judaism confused both the Holocaust and the State of Israel with Jewish identity. Not surprisingly, these were not enough reason for their children to love Judaism. Many of those children or their children reject not only God and Judaism but also Israel.
Most seriously committed Jews raise their children not with the endless sad tales of past oppressions of Jews but with the joys of building a relationship with the Creator. We feel sad that so much of the popular depiction of Jews does indeed revolve around past injustices and find it harmful to the Jewish nation. Obsession with anti-Semitism is a distortion of Judaism. God’s message in Deuteronomy 23:8 still applies today.
May we share a bright future,
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin