Friday, December 11, 2009

Rambam's Letter - A Chanukah Message - Letter for Our Times

With so much tragedy confronting the Jewish Nation on a daily basis we search for an answer!  Over 800 years ago, the Rambam wrote an answer to such a question. We ask everyone to spend a few moments dwelling on the words the Rambam sent to the Jews of Yemen. 

The Jews of that time were subject to unspeakable cruelty that spared no one.  So too in our times we again as a Nation are being subjected to an incredible test of both faith and survival. May these words help give us the strength to overcome yet another difficult period in the history of Klal Yisrael as we await the birth pangs of the final redemption.

Rambam’s Letter to Yemen

Know, my brothers, that G-d has led us on a hard path with this nation of Yishmael, which does so much to torment us and create laws to persecute us. There has not stood against Yisrael a nation more evil, none that has done so much to cast us down, subjugate us and treat us with hatred.  We who suffer what a person cannot bear have accustomed ourselves, both great and small, to tolerate their subjugation. But with all this, we suffer their evil outbreaks all the time. As much as we bear it in order to be with them in peace, they incite against us war and the sword. And how much more, if we foolishly irritate them, then we are giving ourselves over to death.

The Creator of the world will in his compassion, remember us. He will gather the exiles of his portion to gaze at the sweetness of G-d and visit His Beit Hamikdash. He will bring us out of the valley of the shadow of death. He will remove the veil from our eyes and the darkness of our hearts, and establish for us the verse, “The nation that walks in darkness saw great light, light shall dwell upon those who dwell in a land of the shadow of death.” (Yeshayahu 9:1)

May he bring darkness in his wrath and anger upon all those who are against us, and may he illuminate our darkness, as he had promised: “Behold, the darkness shall cover the land and clouds over the nations, and you shall Hashem shine.” (Yeshayahu 60.2)

Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon was referring to the persecution campaign of  the Yemenite government. In our times virtually every Arab nation and most of the member countries of the United Nations have condemned Yisrael in defending itself and seeking peace much as our forefathers have always done before us.  R’ Moshe zt’l gave the Jews the following answer and we can apply this answer even more so today.

Such activities should not decrease one’s faith in G-d, in his Torah and in Moshe His servant. There is no doubt that these are the birth pains of the Mashiach that our Sages prayed that they not be forced to experience. That some Jews have assimilated and converted, and others have not. This has already been predicted by Daniel. He was told by G-d that when the exile would be long and we would suffer many sorrows, many people would be weakened in their religiosity. Doubt would enter their hearts and they would be led astray.

After this, Daniel explained that the wise men who would stand up to the sorrows and remain faithful to G-d and to his servant Moshe would suffer even more, until doubt would enter the heart of some of them as well, and they too would be led astray. Only a small number would remain pure.  We see how much sorrow came upon the Jewish Nation in the Holocaust and the long spiritual desert that was cast upon the Nation in the former Soviet Union, after virtually a majority of both our spiritual and physical past were cut away from us, leaving just a minority of Jews to serve Hashem Yitborach.

The Rambam continues on in his letter exalting all to listen carefully to what he told them:

Teach this letter to the young people and the children, in order to strengthen your faith and be strong in the truth: We have the true Torah that was given to us by the greatest of all prophets, with which G-d separated us from all peoples-not because we were fit for it, but out of his love for us. He has made us special by giving us Mitzvot and laws, so that our superiority is clear insofar as we have the Torah. We were promised by G-d via Yeshayahu that whoever tries to overcome our Torah, whether by force or by argument, will be vanquished: “Every weapon made against you will not succeed, and whatever tongue rises against you shall be condemned.” (Yeshayahu 54:17)

The desire of the Nazarene and Mohammed was to make their religions similar to the Torah of Hashem. But the difference between our Torah and the teachings that are similar to it is like the difference between a living man who speaks and a statue. This state of affairs was also revealed by G-d via Daniel.

There has never been a time that did not have a new persecution and trouble; and afterwards, G-d has always removed it.

Know, my brothers, that the evil Nevechadnezzer forced everyone to serve idols. Only Chananiah, Mishael and Azariah were saved from this decree. Yet afterwards, G-d destroyed Nevechadnezzer and his law, and the truth returned to its place.


The same occurred during the second Beit Hamikdash, when the evil Greeks pronounced terrible decrees of persecution against the Jews in order to wipe out the knowledge of Torah. They forced Jews to desecrate Shabbat, not circumcise their children and to write on their clothing and carve on the horns of their cows that they have no portion in the G-d of Yisrael. This continued for fifty-two years. And then G-d destroyed their kingdom and the laws altogether.

G-d already told Yaakov Avinu that even though other nations may subjugate the Jews, the Jews will always remain. He promised that He will not reject us all, even if we rebel and transgress His Mitzvot.  Rely on these verses, my brothers. Do not be frightened by the constant persecutions and power of our enemies, and by the weakness of our people. This is all meant to test and to purify us, until only the pious, G-d fearing Jews are left.

Therefore, my brothers, all Jews spread across the world, you must encourage each other-the great encouraging the small, the leaders encouraging the masses. Agree without any question that G-d is uniquely One, that Moshe is the greatest of all prophets, that the Torah from beginning to end is the word of G-d to Moshe, that it will never be exchanged, and that no other religion will ever be given by G-d. Remember the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai and teach it to your children. This is the basis of our Religion.

Stand fast in your commitment and your faith, my brothers. Strengthen your hearts and hope to G-d.

- Art by Zalman Kleinman

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