It seems like anti-Semitism is everywhere these days, and almost becoming acceptable again. Why do so many people hate Jews? Why is anti-Semitism still flourishing today, even in modern society? And what can we do about it?


The deepest analysis of anti-Semitism can be found in a deceptively simple Talmudic passage discussing the Purim story, and its wisdom still rings true today.

Haman was an anti-Semitic minister in ancient Persia who wanted to see the Jews annihilated. He approached King Ahasuerus and offered to pay him a hefty sum in return for permission to fulfill his vile wish. The King responded, “Keep your money and do with the Jews as you please!”

The Talmud uses a parable to explain the king’s response:

A farmer had a problem. There was a big mound of dirt in the middle of his field. His neighbor had a different problem, he had a ditch in the middle of his field. The owner of the ditch saw the mound and thought, “I would pay money for his mound to fill my ditch.” The owner of the mound thought, “I would pay money to get rid of my mound in his ditch.” The two finally met, and the ditch owner asked to buy the mound. The mound owner said, “Please take it for free!”

In the same vein, when Haman offered to pay Ahasuerus to rid his kingdom of Jews, the king said, “Go ahead! No need to pay.” Ahasuerus saw the Jews as a mound sticking out in his kingdom, but what Haman saw was a hollow ditch, a deep hole.

And that is the story of anti-Semitism.

Ahasuerus and Haman represent two layers of hatred, the conscious and the subconscious. On the surface, anti-Semites hate Jews because they are a mound. But deep down, they hate Jews because they hate the ditch.

Anti-Semites make all sorts of contradictory statements about why they hate Jews. Jews are rich and own everything, or Jews are poor and stateless; they are religious extremists or they are secular cosmopolitans; they assimilate or they stay separate. Jew-haters say, “Go back to Israel!” and they say, “Get out of Palestine!” They say, “The Nazis should have finished the job,” and they say, “The Holocaust never happened.”

All of these accusations are really saying the same thing: the Jews are a mound in our field. You are in the way. You don't belong here. You are an obstacle, an eye-sore, a blot on humanity. But these are all just pretexts and excuses. None of these is the real reason for anti-Semitism. The true cause of anti-Semitism is not the mound, it is the ditch.

At their core, those who hate others actually hate themselves. Beneath their macho exteriors lies a profound emptiness, a vacuous hole in their souls. They subconsciously sense that their ideology is false, their beliefs empty, their lives void of meaning. And when you are empty, you hate those who are full. When you lack meaning, you envy those who have it. And there is no people that represents higher purpose and eternal truth than the Jewish people.

This is why there are anti-Semites who have never even met a Jew. It's nothing personal. Their hatred is a symptom of their anger at themselves, which they refuse to face, so they project it on another. And the ultimate other is the Jew, the eternal Jew who has watched civilizations come and go, who has outlived all the ditch owners that tried to wipe him out.

In every generation there are evil ideologies. They take on various facades, but they share one common feature: they all hate the Jews. If you want to know which ideology is the destructive force of the age, look at the ones that embrace anti-Semitism. No matter how cultured and intelligent they look, at their core lies a nihilistic ditch, and they are dangerous.

So what should Jews do about anti-Semitism? What can anyone do about someone else’s existential emptiness?

We take our cues from the Purim story. The Jews of the time, under threat of annihilation, did not become less Jewish, but more so. We don't fight emptiness by becoming more empty, and we don't make someone else’s problem into our problem. In the face of irrational hate, we stay proudly and defiantly Jewish, trusting in G‑d, and loyal to our people.

But the Jews of Persia also took political and military measures to protect themselves. Because while we hope that all those haters will one day find some meaning to fill their void, we will not sit by and be victims of those who haven't.

Haman never filled his ditch. But he gave us Purim. Every year Jewish children celebrate and make noise when they hear Haman’s name read in the Megillah. Because we won't be swallowed into somebody else’s dark ditch. We will continue to fight evil and emptiness, by bringing more light to the world.


Talmud Megillah 14a

The Rebbe, Sichot Kodesh Purim 5725