Henry Kissinger, former U.S. Secretary of State, died this past week on November 29th, 2023, at the age of 100. A fascinating story that took place many years ago between Kissinger and Israeli Prime Minister, Golda Meir, has resurfaced.
In a meeting, Henry Kissinger told Golda Meir, "You must remember that first I am an American, second I am Secretary of State, and third I am a Jew."
In her sheer brilliance, Golda Meir replied, "Henry, you forget that in Israel we read from right to left."
I heard from my Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Goldberger shlit’a, a powerful vort from Rav Shlomo Twerski zt”l. In last week’s Parshah we are told of the story with Yaakov and Lavan. Initially, when Yaakov comes to the house of Lavan, the blatant impurity and שקר of Lavan was so discernable and detestable in the eyes of Yaakov. But, in Chapter 31, Verse 2, the Torah says that Yaakov noticed the face of Lavan was not like it was “yesterday and the day before.” It was precisely at that moment, when Yaakov Avinu felt that Lavan did not look as bad as he used to, that he decided it was time to leave.
Living in Galus, exile, is not an easy task or an easy ask, by any means. Perhaps, the single greatest challenge of living in Galus is becoming too comfortable here. After a long time of dwelling in the diaspora, people naturally tend to feel relaxed and content in their current state of distance from Hashem and the Holy Land of Eretz Yisroel.
In this week’s Parshah, Vayishlach, the Torah famously tells us that despite having lived among the wicked Lavan – עם לבן גרתי, still, Yaakov Avinu was able to stay connected to his roots and not only survive, but thrive in his Avodas Hashem.
The Meforshim explain that Yaakov Avinu did not “live” with Lavan, he sojourned with Lavan. He did not dwell in Galus, he merely was traveling and passing through Galus. A Jew must know that first and foremost, before all else, he is a Jew.
Henry Kissinger made the grave mistake of embracing his Jewish identity last, as an after-the-fact, as secondary to everything else. Not embracing our Jewish identity is a recipe for individual and national spiritual catastrophe.
Let us listen to the words of Golda Meir and train ourselves to read from right to left, to put our Judaism first.
Let us not get too comfortable while living in Galus; rather, let us realize we are just passing through, with the knowledge at the forefront of our minds that we are proud to be Jewish. Everything else is commentary.
Have a holy Shabbos!