The Laws of Noah and Anti-Semitism
By Rabbi Yakov D Cohen
The cause of Anti-Semitism is some 3322 years old dating back when the Torah was given for when it was given on Mt. Sinai the name Sinai means “Hate” for it bought out the hatred of the nations. The laws of Noah date back some 1200 years before the Jewish people stood at Mt. Sinai and accepted the Torah.
There are two mysteries that have defied explanation for as long as anyone can remember. The first mystery is anti-Semitism, which is a mystery because there are few things in history that have been as consistent, as universal, and as predictable as anti-Semitism. From one country to another, from one culture to another, from one religion to another — although lifestyles, philosophies, and so forth are extremely different, there is one thing all of the peoples of the world had in common: They all, at one point or another, included individuals, and even large segments of their populations, why does the world hate Jews?
What did these people know about Jews? Sometimes a lot, sometimes very little, sometimes nothing at all. And yet all of them have a discomfort with Jews. Some of the things anti-Semites come up with concerning Jews and Judaism, make us wonder, “What did we do? What could we possibly have done to cause them to suspect such a thing?”
For example, there’s the accusation that Jews are plotting to take over the world. We have our faults, we’re vulnerable to some legitimate criticism sometimes, but, plotting to take over the world? Where did that come from? In order to examine the mystery of anti-Semitism, one needs to have an understanding of its target, which is the Jewish people.
But that’s not so simple, and brings us to the second mystery: What exactly is a Jew? What is Judaism? A religion, a culture, a family, a nation? What? What is it about Jews that everyone hates?
Jews have always been called the “chosen people,” because that’s how we are described in the Bible. Chosen for what? How did we get to be chosen? Why did G-d have to choose a people?
On Being Chosen
In the story of Creation, we see that G-d doesn’t “choose” anything. He decides beforehand what He wants to create and He creates it. What does it mean, then, that He chose the Jewish people? If He wants a Jewish people, He creates a Jewish people. To “choose” a Jewish people implies that all people were originally alike, but then G-d decided that He wanted one nation to do a special job, or whatever He chose us for, and so He went around and checked out the candidates and decided that He would choose us, and so we are the chosen people — we’re the Jews.
What that implies is that it could have been anybody — it was a choice and G-d chose us, but He could have chosen somebody else and then they would have been Jewish. But this doesn’t make any sense. If G-d wants a chosen people, then He creates one. And, if one is created chosen, then what’s the choice? If there is really a difference, a uniqueness that makes the Jew Jewish, then what is there to choose?
Living in America and being enamored with the idea of egalitarianism we’re very uncomfortable with the idea of a chosen people and we try to minimize it, to neutralize it. We try to say that being chosen doesn’t mean that we’re different, it’s just that, well, your grandfather could have been chosen but, uh, he wasn’t educated, but our grandfather was already reading Hebrew, was already wise, so he was chosen.
A Light Unto Nations
The Torah is compared to light, a way to live by and to bring light into the world and to make this world a dwelling place to G-d the Creator of all. We Jews have the responsibility to be a light onto nations with and the Laws of Noah and to bring about world peace.
But nature being nature, it was designed and is preserved by the Creator, not men. He decided to create a “Chosen Nation,” and likewise arranges matters to keep us on the headlines–for good or for bad.
It is not uncommon for a lighthouse whose light is negligently out, that the very ship it was designed to aid crashes into the lighthouse itself, thus damaging both parties… Why?
Because of our essential nature and function. The only reason for bothering to select a particular people–and a small and rebellious one at that–is if they have a purpose to fulfill and a task to accomplish. The Jewish people were tasked with being a lighthouse for the treacherous waters that humanity constantly flounders in. The nations are meant to persistently gaze in our direction. That’s natural.
However, a lighthouse is only useful if the keepers actually maintain the building and keep a steady beacon burning. To that end, G-d gave us the light–His light. We are mere keepers, and dare not claim the light is ours alone.
So, what does the reaction to the Danish anti-Islamic cartoons have to do with Jews?
On the one hand, it is pure and evil anti-Semitism–may G-d return their hatred on their own heads! But at the same time, it is only natural that nations turn to us, whether when creating a religion or when looking for a scapegoat. When the Creator wove the fabric of nature, He designed it so that all eyes face us, regardless of their awareness of this inner reason.
The rest of it is up to us: to guide our neighbors on this planet with the illumination that G-d gave us, to give to them: the seven laws of Noah, as transmitted through the Torah. And it is in the interest of us all–ships and lighthouse alike–that our light should burn steady and sure. It is not uncommon for a lighthouse whose light is negligently out, that the very ship it was designed to aid crashes into the lighthouse itself, thus damaging both parties…
At times, we are like keepers who have forgotten about the beacon atop their tower, and are instead chasing fireflies outside. At such times, we must rediscover the stairwell leading to the top of our lighthouse and the lighthouse master’s instructions on how to kindle its light.
Every step in this direction, no matter how seemingly small, prepares our world for the era when no nation will provoke another, for the divine light will shine brightly for all to navigate a calm sea of life with comfort and ease.
Today we face greater a challenge than anti-Semitism in America, with the idea of equality and politely correctness. We should not forget our task and everyone task to light up the world with the Laws of Noah
9 21. 2010 from a speech to Hadassah NYC