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Harav Y. Reuven Rubin Shlita

Well, for me, it was tomato ketchup; it always was and still is. When we were youngsters and going off to yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel for the first time, we “Americana bochurim” were warned that in the Holy Land food was not all that plentiful. We were told that we should take with us ample supplies of our favourite staples because ‘you just won’t be able to nip out to the local grocery for things.’

Hence some schlepped bottles of coffee, others enough tissues to paper the whole of Jerusalem; and Rubin, well, he took bottles of ketchup, without which life would seem unbearable. This little narrative just goes to show that every Yid, no matter how isolated he may think he is, carries a bit of “home town galus” with him. Americans have their shtick, as do Jews from every other land. We schlep our little galus with us, wondering how others get by without those little things that seem so vital to us.

Unfortunately this golus isn’t always confined to a bottle of ketchup.  Sometimes, no most times, we carry some of the golus attitudes as well. This isn’t always a bad thing. American’s have a “can do attitude” that allows them to undertake projects that seem otherwise impossible. The English are reserved, masters of good manners. This list can go on and on; suffice it to say that part of us is where we come from. The problem is that there are negative aspects that also seep into our outlook in life and sometimes the golus in which we live can threaten to engulf us.

The Kotzker Rebbe was known to say: “It took one moment to take the Yidden out of Egypt, and forty years to take the Egypt out of the Yidden.”

So how do we learn to survive? Where do we get the ability to take the ketchup without the rest of the baggage? The Sfas Emes gives us an insight whilst explaining a passage about Yaakov Avinu.  He says that there is something special in the Torah’s choice of the words Vayechi Yaakov be’eretz Mitzrayim, “Yaakov lived in Egypt.”  The word vayechi comes from the same Hebrew root as the words “chiyus” and “chaim.” These words call forth a special importance; they signify true living – that is living connected to one’s roots, to Hashem.

The greatest question here is how Yaakov was able to experience spiritual chiyus, life, vibrancy in Egypt, which was a country well known to be a swamp of impurity? This, says the Sfas Emes, was possible because Yakov’s greatest quality was emes, truthfulness. By clinging to truth, despite the muck and mire of everything around him, he was able to find spiritual chaim, life. The trick seems to be that when living in golus one must decipher what is truth and what is just worldly vapor. The acts of our forefathers are a sign for their children, and Yaakov’s ability to stay focused no matter where in golus he was placed, is the lesson that we, his children, must absorb if we are going to survive.

We are living in an extremely difficult golus, one strewn with impurities that beckon to the unwary at every turn. Social media creeps into our lives with stealth, convincing us that without our participation we will somehow be seen as aliens.  It is all too easy to fool oneself, but the truth will still be true. We can go with the lies of those who manipulate the culture we find ourselves in, or strive to remain attached to Hashem’s will.

This golus will ultimately end, and the Yiddishe nation will be vindicated, the question is where we as individuals will be. The Voideslover Rav, zt”l once told me, “A Yid should never be tied down to one place emotionally. I still have my Polishe’ passport; who knows what Hashem wants with us?” His words ring truer even more so today – one day’s friend is tomorrow’s enemy.

Yidden have been sought after by many a power, only to be despised when their use was no longer needed. I live in England, a land that threw its Jews out in the 13th Century only to allow them back in some four hundred years later. In the time when no Jews were in that fair land, a well-known writer wrote a play called The Merchant of Venus about an evil Jew who sought to kill someone who owed him money. This writer, one William Shakespeare, never even saw a Jew, yet he wrote this defamation of our people that is still popular today.

Yes, I will worry about my ketchup and others will worry over their favourite bit of golus, but hopefully like Yaakov we will accept the truth of what and who we are, and in this way we will be alive spiritually.