4th of July, Purim and Amulek
Yeah! I agree that this title is at least a little strange, but well… this blog is about a stranger’s views, isn’t it?
When I wrote this essay I didn’t think about Purim. I thought about the Declaration of Independence, the American Constitution, and their authors' influences on the world today. And I wanted to divide the ten pages of my thoughts so that the last installment will be posted the week before July 4th. I know it's a long span of time, but I have a few other essays ready to be posted and I-H they will appear periodically among the continuing episodes, breaking up the monotony somewhere between today's installment, and the one before July 4th.
So, what does the 4th of July have to do with Purim? Read below to find out…
4th of July
My strong desire was to post this essay on the Fourth of July… last year. Instead I wrote it on the Fourth of July, 2013. Another small contribution to the prove Yiddish saying “Mentch tracht G-d lacht.” B”H, I finally found some time free of my other occupations and responsibilities to sit down and share with my readers the ideas which have been lingering in my mind for a while already.
I write this essay in Santa Fe, New Mexico, hosted by Chabad shliach Rabbi Berel Levertov. Here in Santa Fe, one of the ways to celebrate the fourth of July is a huge gathering in the town’s plaza, sharing pancakes in warm, family-like atmosphere with other townspeople and visitors coming to this popular tourist destination.
All over the country, its millions of citizens and not-citizens are celebrating the holiday in a similarly joyous atmosphere, placing their portable chairs and tables in the large spaces in the towns to watch fireworks or placing their seats on the side of the main street of almost every town of this country to see the 4th of July parade. I don’t have to describe more of the details of those celebrations to most Americans, but there are some enclaves where you will not hear loud music and the clatter of hundreds of people on the street. Towns where citizens considering themselves no less American than any other Americans do not celebrate Independence Day in the way so common all over the country.
Why it this so? Do they have no love – or at least appreciation – for the freedom which they experience in this land? Do they not recognize that this freedom is guaranteed to them by the document celebrated on this very day, The Declaration of Independence? Do they separate themselves from the rest of the country’s citizens due to a lack of patriotic sentiment?
In towns like Monsey, New Square, Kirias Joel or Lakewood you will also see loud crowds dancing and celebrating on the street, adults and children singing and playing music in almost ecstatic festivity. But this is not necessarily happening on the Fourth of July. This celebration may take place at almost any day of the year, and it is called Hachnasas Sefer Torah, the Jewish celebration of completing a hand- written Torah scroll and placing it in the synagogue or Bais Hamidrash, the hall of study. This way, Jews celebrate the Source – for us, Torah is the Source of everything, but for rest of our fellow citizens it should be known that this very scroll so celebrated by us is the source of the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution. How is this so?
I heard this idea first from my Rabbi, Rabbi Yosef Bruzda, soon after I settled in this land that welcomes refugees like me. “When Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, he kept the Bible on his lap,” he used to say, the simple meaning of which is that this document – perhaps the most important document in American history – was influenced by ideas whose roots are in Jewish Scriptures. But was the Bible in fact laying on the lap or desk of Thomas Jefferson, and if yes, how did he derive those lofty ideas contained in this document from the Book from which some other people, with their criminal minds, can find justification for mass murder and other crimes of all sorts?
In this essay, be'ezras Hashem, I will try to follow at least one of perhaps many links leading from the Torah to the Declaration of Independence and the ideological foundations of American Constitution.
To keep the facts straight: Jefferson was not a Jew-lover and neither, were the individuals and groups which influenced him. Since the split of the Notzrim – the sect which later became the religion known as Christianity – from rabbinic Judaism, its growth was fed and fertilized by hatred toward Jews. The gentiles adopting the ideas and ideals derived from Jewish scriptures saw it perfectly fitting to build their civilization on the Jewish scriptures and at the same time despise the Jews. (It is beyond the scope of this work to explain how this could happen; IY”H, this may be a topic of a future essay.)
Nevertheless, our sages agree that two “offshoots” of our religion– namely, Christianity and Islam – are preparatory stages for the arrival of the Messiah and recognition of the Almighty's rulership by whole of humanity. Rav Hirsch, for example, in his commentary on Chumash, goes so far in the case of Islam as to call Muslims “half-Jewish.” Rabbi Yehuda Loew, the Maharal of Prague, explains along similar lines our recognition of Muslims as Bnei Noach, people with the halachic status of ger toshav, a gentile of full social rights among Jewish people. However, since he was writing in a Christian country, he abruptly cut his explanation of the status of Christians due to belief of the Christians in shituf, the type of idol worship where the object is considered a partner with G-d.
To further understand the history described in this essay, we must recognize that there are some Christian minorities who do not believe in the dogma of the Trinity coined in the fourth century. And I will write some information about them, but before that we will have to go back in time all the way to the era soon after the Mabul, the flood of Noach, or even before that.
Not one of the ideas which I will write below is my own unless declared so. The Almighty’s providence has put the right teachers and right books on my life path. With His help, I will try to put in perspective the development of human thought, which led part of humanity to accept upon them a government “from the people by the people and for the people,” as Abraham Lincoln put it in his Gettysburg Address.
Needles to say, the connection between Jewish thought and the Declaration of Independence is not exclusive, as there are many traces of different influences over various individuals which led to the creation of the American form of government. However, thanks to my individual path of life and spiritual development, I was able to put the following facts together.
Two modes of civilization
After the sin of the first man and the act of killing of his first son, the moral behavior of humanity deteriorated to the stage that any repair, any tikkun, any restoration of humanity's ties with the Creator was impossible. The catharsis of Noach's flood was supposed to serve for the human race as a new start for developing recognition of Almighty and His laws of morality. Instead, the age of “nothingness” as the Talmud calls it in mesechtas Avodah Zarah, continued for another several hundred years.
Between the Great Flood and the recognition of Creator by Abraham, humanity got an opportunity to build a new civilization of free individuals, families and societies. This new development was expected to be based on mutual tolerance, understanding and love between human and human, family and family, and tribe and tribe. Unfortunately, the two individuals who thought about G-d and his will for humanity were not listened to. Shaim, the son of Noach, and his grandson Aiver were trying to influence humanity from their yeshiva, a learning center located on the hill of the Holy Land, toward service of G-d. But far away, in the plains of Bavel, a different center of thought and social philosophy was developing, and I do not speak now about our father Abraham, not yet.
Nimrod called upon his people to build a tower, a project, in order to establish a name for themselves. According to the Scripture, he was the first to build a city. According to Chazal, the Sages of blessed memory, he was the first to establish a government.
“I will offer you protection,” he said to people whom he made his subjects, “ and the price will be not high: some of your freedom, some of your dignity and some kavod - recognition - for me; we'll make a deal.”
So the history of oppressive government began.
Abraham was born in Nimrod’s idolatrous kingdom. When he came to recognition of the Creator as the sole independent ruling power, Nimrod’s ideology was severely undermined. The idea of G-d and his Law ruling the people, and an independent and free people developing their own relationship with Almighty, was an obstacle to his political and social philosophy. E pluribus unum was a strange idea to Nimrod. He wanted unity, but centralized under the banner of the Babylonian Empire, of which he made himself king. His insignia was the beged, the clothing, of the first man Adam, which Nimrod possessed and which he believed had magical powers. He didn’t know that those garments were garments of separation from the Creator, which He Himself crafted for the first man after his sin. The Midrash tells us that Nimrod saw the possession of those clothes as the symbol of his authority.
One of the grandsons of Abraham was hungry for more than the spiritual powers which were being developed in Abraham’s family for two generations already. Eisav wanted both spiritual and physical greatness, which wouldn’t be wrong if the physical would be in service of the spiritual, as was the desire of his father Yitzchak and grandfather Abraham, and by extension, the Creator Himself. Eisav, on the other hand, saw spirituality at best as subservient to the somatic, and at worst as an obstacle to indulging in total admiration, submission and service of the body and its desires. Eisav wanted to combine his ideas with ideology of Nimrod by taking into his possession the garment of Adam which was in Nimrod’s hands. The only way to do this was by killing Nimrod — and he did.
On the very day his grandfather Abraham passed away, Eisav disregarded his right to be the continuation of the faith and life philosophy implanted within the family of Abraham. Perhaps from this very day, the two modes of civilization have been struggling for domination over the human race.
On one side it is the civilization of Yaakov –Yisroel, the civilization which developed from Shaim son of Noah, who was also called Malchitzedek – the king of justice. Malchitzedek was the king of Shalem, the city of peace that would eventually become Yerushalayim.
It is he who Avraham visits after winning in battle over the four kings and to whom he gives his contributions. It is Malchitzedek to whom Rivka turns for advice about her pregnancy of Yaakov and Esav. It is Yeshiva of Shaim and Aiver where our father Yaakov learns the ways of G-d for 17 years nonstop, without taking any sleep. But the revolution started by Abraham perfected and brought to the new level the teachings of Shaim and Aiver.
In the person of Yaakov and his family the civilization of ‘voice’ — teaching, idea and ideology, justice, freedom, recognition of independence and Godliness of every human being, a civilization of peace — plants its seed among mankind.
On the other side is the anti-Shaim, anti-Semitic Nimrod-Esav-Amalek civilization. This civilization is based on 'hands- – submission, servitude, conquest, war, militarism, domination, occupation, control, destruction, sword – the use of physical power.
See all of the essays on this blog where I just posted Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch’s writings in reference to this distinction between the two modes of civilization. Needless to say, it was not his invention to see the history of mankind in this way; rather, this view is the core of the self-understanding of the Jewish mission in history by all our sages of blessed memory.
We will skip a big part of the human record to speed up to 1776, but two more issues have to be discussed in short: the revelation of Torah on Sinai and the creation of the Jewish nation, and lehavdil, direct sources which influenced political thought in the 16th and 17th centuries. The connecting link between Judaism and its ideas being spread among the rest of humanity in the last two thousand years have been mentioned earlier in this essay.