Rejection is strong medicine, even when by rights it must take place and the Torah itself prescribes it
A fascinating midrash, alluded to in several of the Kinnos said on Tishah B’Av, describes something that occurred as the Churban Bayis Rishon unfolded. It seems that it was not only the Babylonian hordes that sacked the Beis Hamikdash that day; there were other marauders, too, who descended on Hashem’s House alongside them. These were the Jews’ distant cousins, members of the nations of Amon and Moav.
But unlike the Babylonians, the Amonites and Moavites didn’t turn first to plunder the Temple’s treasures. They entered, says the midrash (Introduction to Eichah Rabbah 9), with another goal in mind, one that beckoned them more strongly than the promise of mere gold and silver: They were there to search for the sefer Torah kept there, intent on excising from it the verse of “Lo yavo Amoni uMoavi b’khal Hashem,” which bars male descendants of those two nations from ever marrying into Klal Yisrael.
The midrash doesn’t say whether they succeeded in finding and vandalizing the sefer Torah, but it does tell us that the Amonim and Moavim entered the Kodesh Hakodoshim (perhaps knowing there was a sefer Torah reposed in the Aron alongside the Luchos). Once inside that most sacred inner sanctum, these heathens encountered an unexpected sight: The Keruvim, their cherubic forms ascending from out of the Kappores atop the Aron.
They seized the holy Keruvim and went out to the marketplaces of Yerushalayim. There, they exultantly paraded their unexpected find back and forth through the streets, proclaiming with glee, “Didn’t this nation always claim it doesn’t worship foreign gods? Well, look what we’ve found of theirs and what they’ve been worshipping! We’re all the same after all!”
As a result of this spectacle of sacrilege, the midrash concludes, Hashem swore at that moment to erase Amon and Moav from the world, as the pasuk (Tzefaniah 2:9) states, “Therefore Hashem, the G-d of Israel, swore that Moav will be like Sedom and Amon like Amora.”
What are the undercurrents coursing beneath the events Chazal describe here? I would advance the following tentative conjecture.
Rejection is strong medicine, even when by rights it must take place and the Torah itself prescribes it. Amon and Moav lived in a world and a time when it really mattered to others that the Jewish nation had denied them the possibility of joining with them in marriage even after conversion.
So deeply did this aggrieve them that they traveled to faraway Yerushalayim and entered the burning Temple, marching straight past the spoils, the precious klei Hamikdash, that were theirs for the taking. They had come for one purpose only: to eradicate the verse in the Torah embodying their humiliating rejection. Could physically cutting the words out of the Torah scroll somehow change reality? But that’s what people do when they feel the sting of being spurned.
Suddenly, they spied the Keruvim, which appeared to them to be not a whit different, chalilah, from the idols they and every other nation worshipped. And at that moment, their feelings of rejection came to be fueled by something else very potent: the belief that they had revealed the Jews — the very people that had so painfully rebuffed them forever — as hypocrites.
“We’re all the same after all!” wasn’t intended to give them license for their idolatrous ways, which they didn’t need. It was, instead, a stinging indictment of the Jews, conveying a message of “How dare you hold yourselves greater and holier-than-thou, keeping us at a distance as if we were lepers, with your bans on intermarriage? In public, you profess a belief in One G-d, all the while that out of view you engage in precisely the same practices as all the rest of us.” It was, of course, an entirely false charge, but its roots were in the rejection that pained them to their core.
It would seem that Amon and Moav, Lot’s descendants, may have had a particular sensitivity to spiritual inauthenticity. Their progenitor Lot had grown up, after all, in the noble atmosphere of Avraham’s household, absorbing its exalted values and beliefs. But enticed by the lush material paradise Sedom offered, he parted ways with his righteous uncle and moved there, rising high within its societal ranks, even being appointed a judge.
His life still showed the lingering influence of what had been inculcated in him in Avraham’s home. He performed hachnassas orchim, even at great personal risk. He baked matzos for Pesach. Yet, much else that he did was a direct contradiction to Avraham’s path. Offering his daughters to the bloodthirsty mob outside his door in an effort to protect his guests within was a profound distortion of Avraham’s middas hachesed. The fact that Lot had been elevated as a judge of the realm also indicates that he had long ago left the “derech Hashem… la’asos tzedakah umishpat” that Avraham had taught his household to follow.
And, from what we know about Lot’s own father, Haran, he too was not a model of principled spirituality. As he stood watching his brother, Avraham, allowing himself to be cast into a fiery furnace back in Ur Kasdim, he opted for expediency over truth, deciding that only if Avraham emerged alive would he follow suit. It’s little wonder, then, that this family legacy of religious insincerity would produce in its descendants a tendency toward a cynical suspicion of the genuineness of others’ religiosity.
Rejection, real or perceived, coupled with a cynicism born of exposure to religious hypocrisy, can be a toxic mix. That combination is probably responsible for a large percentage of the terrible attrition from Torah that ravaged Orthodoxy in the early 20th century. I’m sure many readers have had the experience of speaking with a non-observant older Jew who says he grew up Orthodox, but then a few inquiries reveal that he was a casualty of precisely these two ills. There was rejection by parents or teachers, along with a quasi-Orthodox upbringing marked by tepid commitment and riddled with compromise and contradiction.
Yet it wasn’t only then, but now too. Although things are vastly different and better than a century ago, the experiences of too many young people who’ve left our community, or are still suffering silently within it, tell the same story of rejection and hypocrisy, of people in their lives caring far more about appearances and status than about them and their needs.
Succos — the Chag HaAsif, the festival of ingathering — is a high point in the Jewish year for the message of inclusivity and a refutation of the notion of rejecting even one Jew in our midst. Kol Yisrael re’uyim leisheiv b’succah achas (Succah 27b), all Jews are fit to dwell together in one succah, because, as the Sefas Emes explains, through the teshuvah of the preceding Yamim Noraim, our souls return to their roots, and in root, all Jews are one.
The succah that we call home throughout this Yom Tov recalls the Ananei Hakavod, which enveloped Bnei Yisrael. True, those Clouds of Glory ejected the sinners among them, because even communal inclusivity has its limits. But the decision to exclude must be made by someone whose idealism makes him the antithesis of the hypocrite, and be based only on principle and the ultimate best interests of all, including the excluded, never on self-interest.
And what must have no limits at all is the commitment to love and care for every other Jew as an individual.
Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 878. Eytan Kobre may be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
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