Chapter 5: Pariahs
The Roots of Anti-Semitism
Symbols of an Inner Clash
One may argue whether or not the Bible, the Old Testament, is a genuine historic documentation of events. But the great sages of Israel throughout the ages had no concern for the historic relevance of the Bible. Rather, they viewed it as an allegory that depicts internal, spiritual processes that one experiences along the path of correction. To them, Nimrod, king of Babylon, represents meridah [Hebrew: rebellion], defiance against the quality of bestowal, the Creator; Pharaoh stands for the epitome of the evil inclination, and so does Haman, albeit at a later stage in one’s spiritual development.
This is why RASHI interprets the Babylonian Talmud as follows: “His name was Nimrod for he himrid [incited] the whole world against the Lord.”[i]
Regarding Pharaoh, Maimonides explains affectionately, “You should know, my son, that Pharaoh, king of Egypt, is in fact the evil inclination.”[ii] Similarly, Elimelech of Lizhensk, author of Noam Elimelech (The Pleasantness of Elimelech), simply wrote, “…Pharaoh, who is called ‘the evil inclination.’”[iii]
Rabbi Jacob Joseph Katz added depth to the distinction regarding Pharaoh. He explained that the words, “Pharaoh had let the people go” (Exodus 13:17), designate the stage in one’s spiritual development when a person breaks free from the evil inclination’s heavy shackles. In his words, “‘And when Pharaoh had let the people go’—when one’s organs exit the authority of the evil inclination, as during the exodus from Egypt, they came out of the forty-nine gates of Tuma’a [impurity, egotism] toward sanctity [bestowal].”[iv]
Within the same book, Rabbi Katz adds his insights regarding Haman: “Haman’s instruction to make a gallows fifty cubits high is the counsel of the evil inclination.”[v] Similarly, Rabbi Jonathan Eibshitz writes in his book Yaarot Devash [Honeycombs] of “Haman, who is the evil inclination…”[vi]
More recently, Kabbalists and Jewish scholars began to feel that time was of the essence and that the Age of Correction was nearing. They began to add implicit, and sometimes explicit calls to action to their words. Thus, Rav Yehuda Ashlag, sensing that the application of the correction method was urgently needed, made a direct link between overcoming the evil inclination and the way it must be achieved today—through unity. In an essay titled, “There Is a Certain People,” Baal HaSulam tells us, “‘There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples.’ Haman said that in his view, we [Haman’s people] will succeed in destroying the Jews because they are separated from one another, so our strength against them will certainly prevail, because this [separation among them] causes separation between man and God.”[vii] That is, the egoism of the Jews separates them from the quality of bestowal, the Creator, so the strength of the ego, the evil inclination, “will certainly prevail.” “This is why,” continues Baal HaSulam, “Mordecai went to correct that flaw, as it is explained in the verse, ‘The Jews gathered…’ to gather themselves together, and to stand up for their lives. This means that they had saved themselves by uniting.”[viii]
We can therefore conclude that whether or not Nimrod, Pharaoh, Balak, Balaam, or Haman actually existed is of lesser importance. What is important is that the traits portrayed by these characters exist within us, and the Bible only allegorically narrates the stages by which we can overcome them.
When we prevail over these qualities of egotism, we are rewarded with redemption—the quality of bestowal, the equivalence of form with the Creator. And because the Creator desires to do good to us, once we have corrected these traits within us, they will haunt us no more, since we have been redeemed from egotism and acquired His quality of bestowal.
If any of these examples of egotism lived today, we would certainly categorize them as anti-Semites of the worst kind. To that effect, the Rav Kook made a forbidding (and true) prediction while drawing a direct link between modern anti-Semites and biblical ones. In a rather unorthodox statement he writes, “Amalek, Petlura [Ukrainian leader suspected of being anti-Semitic], Hitler, and so forth, awaken for redemption. One who did not hear the voice of the first Shofar [a symbol of a call for redemption], or the voice of the second … for his ears were blocked, will hear the voice of the impure Shofar, the foul [non-kosher] one. He will hear against his will.”[ix]
[i] Babylonian Talmud, Masechet Hulin, p 89a.
[ii] Maimonides, The Writings of Rambam [Maimonides], “The Ethics of the Rambam to His Son, Rabbi Abraham.”
[iii] Elimelech of Lizhensk, Noam Elimelech (The Pleasantness of Elimelech), Parashat Beshalach [Portion, “When Pharaoh Sent”].
[iv] Rabbi Jacob Joseph Katz, Toldot Yaakov Yosef [The Generations of Jacob Joseph], BeShalach [When Pharaoh Sent], item 1.
[v] Rabbi Katz, Toldot Yaakov Yosef [The Generations of Jacob Joseph], Acharei [After the Death], item 1.
[vi] Jonathan ben Natan Netah Eibshitz, Yaarot Devash [Honeycombs], Part 2, Treatise no. 10.
[vii] Rav Yehuda Leib HaLevi Ashlag, Shamati [I Heard], essay no. 144, “There Is a Certain People” (Canada, Laitman Kabbalah Publishers, 2009), 300.
[ix] Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook (Raaiah), Essays of the Raaiah, vol. 1, pp 268-269.