The virtue that sets the nation of Israel apart from other nations and beliefs, and makes them a chosen people, is the desire to improve the entire world * The thread that connects the actions of the patriarchs, Moses, and Ruth the Moabite is concern for others, and making society better * A key component of Jewish faith is the ability to rectify every detail, and discover the divine spark within it, and this is also the source of the optimism of the nation of Israel * The capability of recognizing the values of Torah and mitzvot to lead a process of economic and demographic growth and prosperity
As an introduction to Matan Torah (The Giving of the Torah), it is appropriate to talk about segulat Yisrael (Israel’s uniqueness) since it is impossible to receive the Torah without understanding the value of segulat Yisrael. The problem is that today, when the value of the individual, and the value of equality, are at the center of the moral way of thinking, it is difficult to talk about us being an “Am Segulah” (a chosen nation), because basically, all nations are meant to be ‘chosen nations’. Especially after the Holocaust, where the whole world learned how dangerous the value of nationalism is liable to be, how can we claim that we are an Am Segulah, and further claim that because of this, we have exclusive right over our Land?
For me, this is not an abstract question. Many a time, while lying in bed at night, I couldn’t fall asleep because of these thoughts. Here I am, living in Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel), thinking my nation is the Am Segulah, while in other parts of the world, a Frenchman sits and thinks the same thing, and somewhere else, an Arab, a Japanese, or a Chinese person also thinks similarly. By the same token, believers of every single religion are convinced that their religion is the true one. How can I honestly say that our nation specifically, is the Am Segulah, and our religion is the true religion?
Of course, I knew the primary answer, which rests on the Divine revelation that continues from the Exodus from Egypt, the Revelation at Mount Sinai, and the long history of the Jewish people – all the great and glorious days, and the abysses of torment – all of which, we have learned from the words of the prophets and our Sages.
Still, I was still troubled, particularly by the moral question. Finally, I decided on the line of reasoning that the nation who wants to benefit all peoples and all nations, more than any other nation, is the Am Segulah, and the faith, more than all other faiths, desires to respect, encourage and promote all talents and professions, and to give everyone meaning and divine value, is the true faith.
Indeed, this is the DNA of the Jewish people. This culture accompanies Jews – even if they have distanced themselves considerably – as long as they are aware that they are Jews.
The Foundational Stories
When Abraham opened his tent to guests, he did not do this because he was commanded to, or because he was hoping to profit. Rather, he was motivated by his love for people and his desire to help them.
Abraham and his son Isaac dug wells since wells are the source of life-giving water.
Jacob worked diligently and faithfully as a shepherd, to not only look after himself and earn money, but also to increase the world’s food and clothing supply.
When Jacob’s son Joseph was sold into slavery, he could easily have fallen into despair and bemoaned his lot. However, he did not let this sap his spirit. Rather, wherever he went, he tried to improve the situation of those around him, eventually saving Ancient Egypt from a horrible famine.
Jewish scientists and social activists today, whose primary goal is to contribute to society’s welfare and prosperity, are following the example of our ancestors.
Moses Our Teacher
When Moses left Pharaoh’s palace and saw an Egyptian overseer striking a Jewish slave, he struck the Egyptian and saved the slave, even though Moses knew that by protecting this slave he was endangering himself. As a result, he lost his status as an Egyptian prince and was forced to run for his life to Midian.
There, when Moses witnessed shepherds giving a hard time to the daughters of Jethro (a former priest), he could not stay silent. He fought for their right to give their sheep water from the well, even though he risked coming into conflict with the locals. Moses continued improving himself until he was deserving of leading the Jewish nation to receive the Torah at Sinai.
Ruth the Moabite
After Ruth the Moabite was widowed, she decided to leave her home in Moab and move to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law Naomi, rather than leave her alone in her terrible pain. Naomi, who had been from a very prominent family, was about to return to her homeland defeated, as a widow who had lost her wealthy husband and both her sons. Ruth felt a moral obligation to accompany her and stand by her. As a result of this, Ruth’s heart opened to faith in God. She converted to Judaism and became the progenitor of the Davidic line.
Similarly, our Sages have said that the People of Israel are characterized by three traits: they are “compassionate” – sensitive to the sorrows of mankind, “self-effacing” – God-fearing, and “kind” – wishing to help others.
The Nation and the Land
Many people fail to notice how significant this idea of tikun olam (rectifying the world) through the Nation and the Land of Israel is the foundation of all the Torah, and is the purpose of our People. Consequently, in God’s revelations to our forefather Abraham, he promised them that their seed would multiply like the dust of the earth and the stars of the heavens, and inherit the Land of Israel: “All the families of the earth shall be blessed through you” (Genesis 12: 3). A similar promise was made to Isaac: “All the nations of the earth shall be blessed through your offspring” (ibid. 26:3-4), and also to Jacob: “You shall spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All the families of the earth shall be blessed through you and your descendants” (ibid. 28:13-14).
In other words, the destiny of the Nation of Israel is to reveal, by way of Torah and mitzvot values, the holiness in the Land and in practical life, which includes dealing with all the difficult problems, and consequently, reveal the Divine values in all areas of actual, everyday life – in the spiritual, and in the mundane; the intellectual, and the emotional; agriculture, industry, and business; the sciences and the arts, including literature, poetry, music, and painting; in relationships between husband and wife, parents and children, siblings, and other relatives – as well as communal, and national life.
Now that we have returned to the Land of Israel, our role is to fulfill the divine destiny as the Torah guides, and the more our lives are based on sacred values, the more we will merit receiving divine blessing, revealed in a natural way.
Faith as a Jewish Characteristic
All people have a basic faith. For most people this is expressed as faith in God, Who is the source of all life, and all the values that give them great and uplifting meaning – values whose fulfillment is worth dedicating one’s life to.
Among Jews, this belief is expressed in the fact that we are never satisfied with limited truth and goodness; rather, we always strive to advance, to give everything a deeper moral meaning. Therefore, the Jewish nation was a good match for the divine Torah, because the Torah is rooted in the Infinite, and it is always possible to find endless ideas and meanings in it.
Jewish faith includes the certainty that the universe and everything in it can be improved and exalted. This is because everything has a spark of the divine within it. By revealing this spark with the guidance of the Torah and its mitzvot, we can advance the universe. To do so, we must disavow idol worship and any other conventions that limit or distract us from our aspiration to improve the world.
The amazing optimism of Jews is rooted in this faith. Despite the pain and suffering the Jewish nation has experienced throughout the ages – more than any other nation – it has retained its belief in the possibility of perfecting the world. The power of this belief is what has led the Jews to produce so many revolutionaries, entrepreneurs, and innovators in science, and the humanities.
The Blessing of the Torah and the Mitzvot
Indeed, miracles do exist. However, the real tikun comes without any miracles at all; rather, man, created in the image of God, walks in the ways of God, and reveals all the good in nature, until eventually, it all sings praise, and man and earth produce their good harvest.
I will attempt to describe how this process can actually take place:
Out of recognizing the value of the Torah, Am Yisrael will be strengthened in emunah (faith) and ratzon (desire) to rectify the world, and add blessing in all areas of life.
Out of an understanding of the value of the sanctity of the family, many more Jewish men and women will marry happily and lovingly, and raise numbers of children who will grow up in nurturing homes, and the nation will grow and prosper in terms of quality and quantity.
Thanks to the exceptional willingness to contribute to the nation in the army and in settlement, the security situation of the country will improve.
Thanks to the value of learning, many of them will invest more years in academic studies and in professions suitable to them, and the quality of their work will improve.
Recognizing the value of science, more and more Israelis will achieve excellent academic success, and groundbreaking scientists will flourish.
Thanks to the recognition of the value of work and the contribution to tikun olam, employees will enjoy their jobs, and work diligently.
Owing to the values of integrity and truth, we will be more honest in business, and it will be more profitable to do business and forge partnerships for the development of society and the economy.
As a result of meaningful Torah study on Shabbat and holidays, along with the joy of Shabbat spent with family, we will continue to be strengthened in all these values, and merit more inspiration in development and creativity in all our actions.
Out of the values of kindness, many will strive to develop ways and means to help the disabled and wounded in body and soul, and the talent of all those who have been silenced due to various disabilities will be revealed, and provide a new and original contribution to society.
We see then, following in the path of Torah and mitzvot is intended to add blessing and joy to families, add inspiration to the educational system, justice and kindness to society, meaning and value to the individual, innovation in science, enrichment for the arts, diligence and creativity for agriculture and industry, vigor to the economy, and integrity to business.
If, thanks to all this goodness, the annual GDP of the State of Israel grows by only 3% on average more than the other developed countries, and scientific development for the benefit of humanity continues to progress consistently in only 3% more than developed countries, and the welcome demographic growth occurs in accordance with Torah guidance, within a few generations, the Jewish people living Eretz Yisrael will number tens of millions, and will lead the world in terms of values, science, and economics.
As long as we progress and develop, the Jews of the Diaspora will yearn to immigrate and join the success, and even the descendants of Israel who have been lost to us under the pressure of the anguish of exiles, will seek to discover their roots, and return to their people and country.
And a great, powerful, and populous nation will proclaim faith and justice to the world, pave paths for moral education and intellectual development for the benefit of mankind, innovate methods and technologies for longevity and quality of life.
And the words of the prophet will be fulfilled: “In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths. The Torah will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2: 2-3).
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.