“In Every Generation They Tried to destroy us. God saved us”
“Let’s eat!”
This formula certainly applies to the two approaching holidays of Purim and Pesach. Interesting to note that the former comes at the end of the holiday cycle and the second, at the beginning. At the same time it’s so interesting to note to what degree the whole subject of “destruction” or “persecution” seems to be part of our “DNA.”

As it states in the Haggadah, “In every generation they rise up to destroy us, “But the Holy One rescues us from their hands.”
Since the end of World War II, our Jewish community in the United States hasn’t had to face the level of hatred that we see today. In the past, such hatred was limited to members of the extreme Right, today, however, we are witnessing anti-semitism rear its ugly head on the Left, and we are caught in the middle.

If we look back to the Biblical origin of what is called “anti-semitism,” we could say that it starts with our patriarch Isaac. The reason there, (Genesis 26:12-16) has to do with Isaac’s prosperity and the jealousy of the Philistines. “…the man (Isaac) grew richer and richer until he was very wealthy: he acquired flocks and herds, and a large household, so that the Philistines envied him. And the Philistines stopped up all the wells which his father’s servants had dug in the days of his father Abraham, filling them with earth. And Abimelech said to Isaac, “Go away from us, for you have become too big for us.” Isaac moves his people away, but this behavior continues two more times until he appears to be far enough away.

We only need to go so far as Isaac’s son, Jacob to read about the hatred he has to endure. The irony here is that the hatred is found in his own family: his twin brother, Esau, and his mother’s brother, Laban. Reading the plain sense of the text, we would say that initially, the way Jacob treats Esau – in making him sell his birthright and later, cheating him out of the blessing that Isaac planned to give Esau – is sufficient cause to create such enmity. However, we could certainly question whether these acts were sufficient motive to justify Esau’s plan to murder his brother. There’s much to unpack in studying these passages (Genesis 25: 19 – 34 and 27: 1-41).

It’s clearly “payback-time” when it comes to Jacob’s stay with uncle Laban. Our commentaries find many suggestions to show that Jacob has to pay for the way in which he cheated his brother. Uncle Laban turns out to be an expert at cheating, and when Jacob turns the tables on him and then departs, Laban sets out with the intent to exterminate him. God comes to Laban in a dream and warns him “Beware of attempting anything with Jacob, good or bad.” (Genesis 31:24)

One generation later, and we witness the jealousy between Joseph and his brothers (Genesis 37). Again, the feelings run so deep that they feel justified in killing him. Only Judah, is able to convince them that there’s “more profit” in selling him as slave and having their father believe that a “savage beast devoured him.” (Genesis 37:33)
In Egypt, Joseph faces being framed by his master’s wife, when he resists her attempts to seduce him. (Genesis 39:7-20)

The book of Genesis ultimately closes with a powerful resolution. After the brothers prove that they deeply regret what they did to him and, in fact, are worried that Joseph will use the power he has achieved to take revenge, they come to him to see where he stands (Genesis 50:18-21). His response is, perhaps, one of the most important messages in the Bible, “Have no fear! Am I a substitute for God? Besides, although you intended me harm, God meant it for good…”
As we see, though, the story isn’t over. As we close the Book of Genesis and begin Exodus, we see that within a generation, “… the Israelites were fertile and prolific; they multiplied and increased very greatly, so that the land was filled with them.
“A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph…” (Exodus 1:7-8)
So this dynamic of success leading to jealousy; jealousy unchecked leading to hatred; hatred eventually leading to attempted destruction; attempted destruction leading to Divine intervention, is the theme shared by Purim and Pesach.

Our Tradition doesn’t see this all as one-sided. This commentary on human nature comes to teach all of us great lessons; more lessons that can be contained within the space of this column. Just to mention a few:
Not to put too much stock in personal and worldly success – to recognize that it may come at a great price.
To recognize a profound demand for social justice and to see personal success or the accumulation of wealth as blessings to be shared. There’s a statement in our Tradition that says, “God wants different things from the wealthy and the poor:
From the wealthy, God wants to see if they will share their wealth;
From the poor, God wants to see if they won’t steal!”
As we enter this time of remembrance and celebration, I wonder if we ever might be capable of seeing humanity as one large family, children of One Divine Parent; that just as our hearts are united with those to whom we are related, we could see ourselves, despite differences of race and religion, as the Human Family.

With fond wishes for “a merry Purim and a Kosher Pesach,”
Mordecai Miller. Rabbi,