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How to beat antisemitism

You’ve seen the videos of IDF soldiers saving lives, and you’ve also no doubt also seen the pictures and videos of regular citizens bringing joy to the soldiers. There are lavish barbecues being sponsored by communities around the world, concerts by A-list celebrities with singing and dancing on army bases, and overall expressions of love and gratitude for the soldiers’ dedication and sacrifice.

You may have also noticed that in many of these images, the soldiers are wearing “tzitzit,” four cornered garments with fringes attached to them. Many of these soldiers are not personally religious, but the wave of tzitzit has taken over large segments of Israel’s society. I recently even saw a clip of soldiers working out at a Crossfit gym while wearing olive green undershirts with tzitzit flying around as they do push ups, pull ups, climb ropes, lift weights, and so on.

They have taken upon themselves this special mitzvah in light of a story of a soldier being nearly misidentified as a terrorist, and at the last minute someone noticed his tzitzit thus saving his life. This has led to volunteers in Israel and around the world mass producing tzitzit for soldiers, who are more than happy to wear them as a sign of the ultimate protection from G-d.

In the Shema, where the Torah commands us to wear tzitzit, it states that by wearing them we will be constantly reminded of all of G-d’s 613 commandments. The numerical value of the word tzitzit in Hebrew is 600, plus its eight strands and five knots, equal 613. So wearing tzitzit serves as a constant reminder of our connection to G-d, our obligation to Him and in return, His commitment to protect us.

The number 613 is also alluded to in a message that Jacob sent his brother and archenemy Esau. After spending 34 years apart, Jacobs informed his brother — who wanted to kill him — that he hasn’t changed one bit. Despite spending 20 years with their uncle Lavan, who was no righteous man, Jacob was still committed to observing G-d’s 613 commandments. He tells Esau, “I have sojourned—garti—with Lavan,” and the word “garti” in Hebrew also has the numerical value of 613.

Jacob could have been forgiven for losing some of his religious fervor after having spent so much time away from his father’s home. He could have assimilated into the culture of Lavan’s community and no one would have judged him. But Jacob knew that the way a Jew combats his enemies is not by shedding his identity, but by doubling down and reinforcing who he was. A proud Jew doesn’t back down even in the face of adversity, and this proved to be the linchpin in surviving every situation he found himself in.

The Talmud states that just like halacha, Jewish law, can never change, so too Esau's hatred for Jacob will never wane. Nevertheless, when Jacob and Esau finally meet after three-and-a-half decades, Esau embraces and kisses his brother. Although some commentators say that this wasn’t a genuine expression of kinship, there are those that say that at that moment Esau was in fact overcome with a feeling of mercy for his brother.

So what caused Esau’s temporary change of heart? If his hatred for Jacob is unchangeable why did he suddenly embrace him? The answer lies in Jacob’s earlier message to him: I, Jacob the Jew, will never change who I am. I have no fear of you, I am a proud Jew and will always adhere to the life path dictated to me by G-d. This is my identity.

That’s what Esau respects, and all antisemites today are the ideological heirs of Esau. They will never come around to love us, but they will respect us for standing up for our identity. When a Jew stands proud, the world listens. They won’t change, no matter how many logical and emotional Facebook posts we share. But they will respect us for standing up for our Jewish ideals and way of life.

When a Jew commits to observing G-d’s commandments as dictated to us by the Torah, the world respects us.

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