As I became frum, I heard the opposite refrain from people who actually knew the truth: "The Torah isn't a history book."
They said this to explain why certain things either weren't mentioned or to explain confusing chronology, and so on.
The Torah comes to teach; that is its entire purpose & hinted at in its name: Torah, coming from the root horah — teach.
In Rav Avigdor Miller's dvar Torah for Parshas Eikev 3 – One Nation In The World, Rav Miller makes this same point: The Torah isn't about world history (although you can find a lot of interesting anthropological historical insights in it).
History's Main Blog & Its Surprising Sidebar
(And if you really think about, they really are history's sidebar.)
Tremendous art, literature, music, architecture, innovations, and science came out of the cultures, some preserved in a way that allowed them to be discovered millennia afterwards.
Yet you don't hear much about them in the Torah.
The Torah starts with Beresheit bara Elokim et hashamayim v'et ha'aretz — and Rashi states the verse's entire purpose is to make it clear that reisheit (the main priority, so to speak) is Yisrael.
In other words, the universe was created with Am Yisrael in mind.
To foster a loyal group of humans dedicated to holiness & elevation:
That's the purpose of Creation.
God Loves the Small & Unpopular
Throughout the Torah, it's the smallness that merits greatness:
- Har Sinai was the smaller mountain
- David Hamelech was the youngest brother
- Gidon was the youngest brother in the smallest family in the smallest Tribe (Menashe) Moshe Rabbeinu was the youngest brother
We see people despised or rejected (David Hamelech, Yiftach, Leah Imeinu, etc.) attaining greatness beyond anyone's expectation.
Only one person, Noach, was worth saving his family & continuing humanity.
Am Yisrael really started with a childless couple (Avraham & Sara) living in a tent in the desert.
Even today, Judaism focuses so much on baby-steps and building yourself by one minuscule success at a time. (This is evidenced in what our truly great people advise us regarding self-improvement.)
Our task is to bring Hashem into the physical world & elevate the mundane.
Yet we've always needed to strain against the current to accomplish this because much of the surrounding world opposes everything Yisrael stands for.
Prophetically, Rav Miller predicted that one day, people would try to remove "In God we trust" from its coins.
In 2006, someone tried to challenge the inscription of "In God we trust," desiring to strike it from US money.
In 2007, the same person tried to eliminate "under God" ("one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty & justice for all") from the Pledge of Allegiance.
Rav Miller certainly saw which way the wind was blowing.
The Distortion of the Jewish Image throughout the Ages
On page 9, he describes the treatment of the media regarding the chassidic Jews of Williamsburg, who do not stand idly by the blood of their fellow Jew when that Jew is gashed & mugged: Homeless Man Attacked by Chassidish Mob!
Oh yes...this oh-so pitiable homeless man cut a Jew's face with a razor & snatched the Jew's wallet.
It sounds exactly like what the media does regarding Israel: Palestinian Driver Shot by Israeli Soldier!
(Only they fail to mention that the driver was a rampaging terrorist who turned his car into a weapon against pedestrians.)
And he makes excellent points about the hypocrisy of nations ignoring truly horrific violations of human rights around the world and within modern countries in order to focus on demonizing Jews.
Start Looking Inward for Solutions because the Outside World is Rotting at Its Core
Rav Miller acknowledges that people accuse him all the time of whitewashing the Jewish people.
Yet Rav Miller insists that the non-Jewish societies aren't any better.
Several posts on this blog have discussed this.
I grew up in non-Jewish/secular Jewish America & there is so much gunk under the surface.
And yes, I'm very well aware of the problems within frum society, but there are so many frum people going above & beyond to heal the problems.
Yes, there are bad people and useless "help" in the frum community.
But in secular society, I never saw the self-criticism and passion to help that I saw in frum society.
And there are a lot of effective frum people who help.
And the same frum people who dedicate their lives to helping fellow Jews, even with the worst & thorniest problems, never give themselves credit for being the power of good that they are.
Furthermore, these same people constantly exhort us to improve ourselves and to be kinder to each other (which is a good thing).
We have such high expectations for ourselves that we focus on our problems & flaws to the point that we feel like we're worse than our surrounding societies.
I've personally heard/read of very frum people exhorting the frum world to look to the non-Jewish world as an example of how to handle our worst issues.
Utilizing their resources is fine; we gratefully support & utilize non-Jewish police services, fire departments, hospitals, etc.
But to use the non-Jewish world as an EXAMPLE of what to do?
No, no, no, no.
A lot of frum people do not know what's actually going on in the non-Jewish/secular world because they, baruch Hashem, were never immersed in it.
And even the stuff frum people read in popular non-fiction or the newspapers, they don't necessarily believe it's as bad or as common as it actually is.
Because it doesn't LOOK that way on the outside or at work with your non-Jewish/secular co-workers.
Yes, the non-Jewish society promotes itself by showing you all the organizations and hotlines and laws it has to protect/assist people, but then you notice that a lot of it doesn't actually work.
(Please note: I did NOT say it NEVER works EVER. But it does not work as well or as often as the culture would like you to believe.)
Or people still don't feel they can get the help they need.
Despite all the "freedoms" and therapies and self-help options available, and despite the social acceptance of these, we see that society is actually worsening and even writhing in pain & despair.
It's not working.
We see this in how self-destructive behavior (eating disorders, drug addiction, gaming addiction, alcoholism, cutting, suicide, etc.) rose along with the rise of secular liberalism.
And the explosion of hatred! Both hatred of others & hatred of self as exemplified through murder & suicide...
It's a hate-filled society. (Peace 'n' love, man!)
Some USA stats (source):
- Suicide in the #1 cause of death for Native American girls ages 10-19.
(Yes, you unfortunately read that correctly. If you hear about the death of a 10-year-old Native American girl, she probably did it to herself. Yet do you EVER hear any exhortations to help them?)
- Murder by another black male is the #1 cause of death for black males ages 15-34.
And for any BLM sympathizers: Out of every 65 black male deaths, 60 are caused by another black male.
Guess how many black deaths out of 65 are caused by a police officer?
- Suicide is the #1 cause of death among Far East Asian males ages 20-24.
This is from a group considered successful by society. So why are they killing themselves more than almost any other?
- Suicide is the #2 cause of death among so-called privileged white males ages 15-19.
25% of all white male deaths in this age-range are caused by their own hand. Someone had better tell them they're privileged because they don't seem to know!
All this self-destructive behavior clearly shows a society in steep decline.
And where are all the organizations & fanfare?
Did you know that suicide is the leading cause of death among Native American females ages 10-19, Far East Asian males 20-24, and the second leading cause of death among white males 15-19?
Most people do not know this.
If you did know this, did you hear it from a mainstream publication or source?
Or did you hear it from an alternative source or need to do your homework to discover this?
And if so, how often did you ever hear it discussed?
Tragically, that's a sign that no one really cares about that suffering & those deaths.
Anyway, this is clearly not a society to emulate, so let's just get to work on ourselves using our own tools.
The Authentic Jewish Secret to Success
And if someone is lacking in Torah attitudes he cannot be considered successful at all.
It doesn't matter how frum someone looks.
It doesn't matter how full of "good intentions" a non-frum person may appear.
If the Torah attitude isn't there, then phfftt.
Rav Miller then details (pages 13-14) all the norms in frum society that we take for granted.
Deviants make the news, unfortunately.
So we need to look at our neighbors and inner circles to get renewed enthusiasm about ourselves.
Getting Real about Us
Chanifah (labeling something is good when it most certainly is NOT) is strictly forbidden by the Torah.
It's about seeking the light in other people.
It's about healing problems & trauma by looking to what is RIGHT to do, and not obsessing only about what is wrong.
It's well-known that when people raised dysfunctionally ONLY say, "I'll never do what my parents did; that was bad," they don't succeed as well in overcoming their negative programming.
It's the ones who say, "I won't do the bad things my parents did; I'll do this-and-such good thing instead! I want to emulate the good parents I see!" — those are the ones who often end up overcoming a lot of dysfunction.
Focusing so intently on what's wrong & how bad it is doesn't help to unmire people.
Focusing on what CAN be done & how we SHOULD behave reaps much juicier fruits.
It's about being our best according to Hashem's standards & value system.