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Siege Mentality

Siege Mentality


We all know the feeling of being under siege.

It may be as innocuous as being the only other vegetarian at the family reunion dinner, or one of the few pro-Bush guys in the office. Or as disquieting as being the only person of your skin color in the subway car, or the only member of your gender in a crowded elevator. Or as terrifying as being herded into a room with the rest of the embassy staff by masked gunmen, or your country being attacked by a powerful foe. These scenarios share little in common, of course -- except for the common situation of finding yourself part of a distinct group of people who are outnumbered or otherwise overwhelmed by a common adversary.

An interesting thing happens in these situations: we begin to feel a kinship with our fellow besieged. People who ordinarily would not interest us in the least -- people who, in ordinary circumstances, we would perhaps even despise -- become our brothers and sisters. We begin to care about them; their suffering becomes our suffering, their triumphs become our triumph. An attack on them becomes an attack on us -- after all, we're in this together.

A hallmark of Chassidic teaching is to seek out the kernel of truth buried in even the most blatant lie, to search for the spark of joy hidden within the most oppressive sadness, to unearth the core of goodness languishing within the most sinister evil.

The point of this is not that the lie now becomes less false, or that the evil is less vehemently opposed, or that the sadness is thus diminished. On the contrary: a falsehood it is all the more perfidious for its corruption of the truth it has commandeered, evil is all the more to be battled because of the goodness it enfolds within itself and feeds upon, a tragedy is all the more tragic because it represents a potential joy in malformed garments. The point is that even as we denounce falsehood, fight evil and mourn tragedy, we simultaneously engage the negativity in our world on another, more inner plane: by reclaiming its positive core.

When we are faced with a lie we renounce it. But we also dig deeper. We ask ourselves: what gives this lie its sham of credibility? What truth has it hijacked and twisted? How can we reaffirm this truth so that it shines forth in its purity, thereby revealing the hollowness and fallacy of the lie that has impersonated it?

When faced with evil, we battle it. But we also dig deeper. We ask ourselves: What is the source of its power? What good and positive force has it tapped into and exploited? How can we redeem that captive good so that the husk of evil that conceals it melts away as darkness melts away before light?

When faced with a tragedy we mourn. But we also dig deeper. We ask ourselves: what positive element lies buried within this negative experience? For we believe that the essence of every thing, force or phenomenon in G‑d's world is good. We cannot always see it. But we always look for it.

The 10th of the month of Tevet on the Jewish calendar is a fast day. On this date some 2,500 years ago the armies of the Babylonian emperor Nebuchanezzar laid siege to the city of Jerusalem. This was the first of a series of events leading to the destruction of the Holy Temple and the exile of the Jewish people from the Land of Israel. It is thus a day of fasting and repentance -- a day in which we mourn the tragic events of the day, contemplate their deeper causes in our own souls and deeds, and work to correct them.

But the Chassidic masters teach us to seek also the positive aspect. Without detracting in any way from the need to mourn and rectify the negativity of the events of Tevet 10, we must also zero in on the positive core at its heart.

Coming under siege is a horrible experience. A literal siege brings famine, plague and bloodshed. But also figurative "sieges" are predominantly negative, engendering feelings of helplessness and victimization. Beneath all that negativity, however, lies the liberating and empowering realization: We're in this together! Despite our differences, despite the animosities and quarrels that strive to drive us apart, we share a common fate, a common identity, a common goal. Being under siege brings to light a truth that was always there but which we had hitherto been prevented from or have avoided seeing -- the truth that we are all one.

The trick, of course, is to grasp this truth, to hold on to it and possess it, without its negative trappings. To rid ourselves of the negativity of Tevet 10 and retain only its positive core.

May it be speedily in our day.

By Yanki Tauber; based on the teachings of the Rebbe.
Artwork by Sarah Kranz.
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Joel Rosenblum The Villages, FL December 11, 2013

Jews argue over the darnedest things. I came upon this discussion as I research the week's portion preparing myself for my turn to do the service at B'nai Darom in Ocala and wanted to discover if I could tie in Friday the 13th and sure got plenty from the Wikipedia et al.

Do I have a point? Yes, we should DO something rather than waste time on obscurity. We have not lived today until we have done something for someone who can never repay us.

Shilrey Palm Desert, Ca via January 5, 2012

Fast of the desruction and Siege Mentality Thank you for making knowledge and inspirational thoughts so readily available on your website.
Apart from understanding the fast more and giving my rusty memory of Jewish history a boost, it's given me a lot more to think about in my daily life of my own feelings of other forms.

Thank you again. Reply

julie black mountain, nc/USA January 4, 2012

each and every comment is revealing -- and insightful. each view expressed, countered, explained or rephrased makes another "cut" on the faceted gem. Many sincere thanks. Reply

Esther Bayla hallandale, Fl. December 28, 2007

Under Seige Mentality Could we apply this under seige mentallity to our "Land of Israel"? Some people feel that any peace regardless of what we have to give up is better than the constant threat of being attact (although appeasement never worked) while our teachings and our knowing the truth tell us Israel must remain strong and be a Jewish nation if not all Jewish at least we should be a secure nation with Justice for all certainly not divided. If we could maybe stick together and have a common goal of peace for all and ultimately become a world under G'd. Is this too much to ask for? Lets at least try. "think good and it will be good" Reply

Anonymous london, england via December 23, 2004

brilliant Wow you really did a great job! Keep going and make the rebbe proud! Im sure hes so happy with all the outreach you guys are doing Reply

Yona Jerusalem, Israel December 23, 2004

to alexandra from yona The Rebbe has indeed said this regarding legitimate halachic opinions (rulings derived from Torah in accordance with the principles of the "Torah Shebaal Peh" handed down from Moses by teacher to disciple through the generations). I do not know of any legitimate halachic ruling that permits "men and women together" in a prayer service. Reply

Alexandra Malamud Brooklyn, NY December 22, 2004

to Yona There was always a variety of opinions among he rabbis concerning any matter. The argument went about the details of the service, as well as about the ways in which our Creator makes His will to be known. As the Rebbe points out, even if we personally agree with only one of their opinions, looking at all of them helps find a deeper meaning. Reply

Yona Jerusalem December 21, 2004

Whatever we do, we serve our creator? To Alexandra:

"Whatever we do, we serve our creator"?? Does our creator have any say in the matter of how she/he/it wishes to be served? Reply

Alex December 21, 2004

to cs from alex You misunderstood my comments. I was not reacting to the point made in the article. I was addressing Alexandra's post about "we all serve Hashem in our own way. Men only, men and women separately, men and women together, women leading services, speaking our prayers, singing our prayers, singing niggunim - whatever we do, we serve our Creator." My point was not to confuse the ideal of "Jewish unity" with carte blanche acceptance of every person's ideas or actions. We are all one in essence, but there are still right ways and wrong ways of doing things. If we don't accept that (at least the principle of that, though we may quibbler over the details), we're in big trouble Reply

CS December 21, 2004

To Alex So, you are saying that sometimes if you feel under siege, it's the right thing, because maybe your position is wrong? Obviously sometimes we are right and sometimes we are wrong on an issue, regardless of how many people around us agree or disagree, or how they choose to express their disagreement. But when you feel under siege - having your beliefs and views attacked by others - how do you get the objectivity to say "hey, maybe they have a point."

What I got from this article is that putting a person or group of people under a state of "siege," whether physical or psychological, isn't a very good method to make them reevaluate their position. It's more likely to make them more entrenched, to regroup, to unite with those who think like they do, without necessarily taking any steps to change. But by pursuing ways of peace, (while still making our views known in a firm manner) we allow people the space to reflect on their ideas and see if they can find common ground. Reply

Alex December 21, 2004

To Alexandra Your sentiments are of course positive and heartwarming. But you're mixing apples and oranges. There are right ways and wrong ways of doing things. Love, brotherhood and unity are about accepting the other PERSON, not about accepting wrong ACTIONS Reply

Alexandra Malamud Brooklyn, NY December 20, 2004


I love this article! What a powerful method it suggests! Unearth the truth on which the evil feeds and let it shine in its purity. Let's apply this method to the "baseless hatred between Jewish people", which is the evil of the Tevet 10. The animosity is negative, but the truth underneath it is diversity. We are all different. Our congregations are different. Our services are different. However, we all serve Hashem in our own way. Men only, men and women separately, men and women together, women leading services, speaking our prayers, singing our prayers, singing niggunim - whatever we do, we serve our Creator. Without any of our denominations the design of the world would not be complete. We all are the parts of the SHLEMUT - completeness - that makes SHALOM. May it be speedily in our days. Reply

CS December 20, 2004

This article explores the feelings of those who are under siege, "the common situation of finding yourself part of a distinct group of people who are outnumbered or otherwise overwhelmed by a common adversary."

I think it's also worthwhile reflecting on our behavior when we are the ones who are in the majority or the more powerful faction. - i.e., how we treat those who are "outsiders," or those who disagree with our views. Sometimes the line between "good" and "evil" is not so clearly drawn.

I liked this quote: "Being under siege brings to light a truth that was always there but which we had hitherto been prevented from or have avoided seeing -- the truth that we are all one." Is there ever a way to bring unity between the besieger and besieged? Or must one side be completely vanquished? Reply

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