Beit Midrash

  • Family and Society
  • The Nation of Israel
To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicated in the memory of

R. Avraham ben-tziyon ben shabtai

The Difference between Am Yisrael and the Nations

This article explores the relationship between the Jewish nation and the nations of the world. A relationship that could be described as complex and fractious, and given the right outlook it could be a positive influence on all the parties involved.


Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed

Iyar 5753
The relationships between the nation of Israel and the rest of the nations are complex. Many books have been written and much thought has been put into attempting to understand these complicated and strange relationships between Israel and the other nations of the world. However, there still remains a lingering feeling that a basic true explanation for such relations does not exist. The unexplained, unjustified, deep and continuous hatred of the other nations towards Israel has existed since the Jewish people became a nation. This hatred has always existed, regardless of whether it is a period of success or a period of failure for the Jews. Here the Jews are hated because they are capitalists and there they are hated because they are socialists. Here because they are right wingers and there because they are left wingers. Here because they are quick and more talented than the norm and there because they are considered an economic burden. Here because they are too advanced and there because they are considered to be antiquated or outdated.

Reality proves all these claims to be fictitious and such loathing to be based on untruths. The raison d'être is the famous dictum of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai: "It is a known law that Esau hates Jacob" (Sifrei Bmidbar 69). At first glance Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s wording is somewhat puzzling because it does not seem appropriate to deem this situation as a law. It would seem more befitting to say "It is known that Esau hates Jacob." What exactly is the meaning behind the word law in this context? The genius and learned Rabbi Menachem Zamba tz"l explains that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai does not necessarily provide an explanation; rather he offers us a given fact based on no understandable reason. It is known that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai always searched for the underlying meaning of the written law and would seek out the deeper meaning for every mitzvah. Yet, in this case he decrees that the situation is simply as it is and there is no need to probe for a reason because there just is none.

Not all non-Jews feel comfortable acknowledging this baseless hatred. They may conceal it, ignore it, cover it up, or deny it. The hatred, however, still exists. There are those who attempt to fight and confront this hatred and who try to uproot it and suppress it. Nevertheless, their efforts are often to no avail, as natural instincts from time to time take over, resulting in anti-Semitic tendencies.

The greatest anti- Semitic outburst occurred only 50 years ago, with the horrific holocaust. Many nations actively participated in that evil atrocity. Some took part in the massacres, while others knew of the situations and did not lift a finger to save the victims. Only afterwards did some wake up to the immorality of the situation and find their consciences bothering them about what had happened. And only then did they feel the need to request from the United Nations that the Jews be given the Land of Israel as a form of atonement for the evil that had prevailed them throughout the holocaust. But nature didn't change. The inter-relationships between Israel and the other nations remain, to this day, as complex and complicated as always. "It is a known law that Esau hates Jacob."

This law teaches that there is no sense in trying to change the natural phenomenon that exists in reality. The Jewish nation will have to just learn to live with things as

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