"Moshiach is ready to come now-our part is to increase in acts of goodness and kindness" -The Rebbe

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Jews and Non-Jews: Complementary Missions Given at Sinai

Jews and Non-Jews:
Complementary Missions Given at Sinai

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

It may come as a surprise, but according to many opinions,[1] before the giving of the Torah at Sinai, the Jewish people had the halachic status of non-Jews. Their basic philosophical beliefs about the oneness of Hashem, His providence, and so on, were no different from those that Jews believe in today (on the contrary, we are continuing the mission to carry on these sacred beliefs, with the help of Hashem). Moreover, the Jewish people existed as a separate nation ever since the time of Yaakov, all of whose sons were Jews. We even knew Torah, for all the forefathers sat and studied Torah,[2] and passed it on to future generations. And yet the Torah tells us that they were not real Jews until much later on, when the Torah was given at Sinai. Why?

When Hashem chose us as a nation, He separated us from the nations around us by giving us the Torah and its Mitzvos.In other words, a Jew then ceased being merely a person—in essence, a non-Jew—with a belief system and practices (along with the distinguished lineage of the forefathers) that differed from those of the rest of mankind. The Jew’s fundamental being, core, and every aspect of his or her life, became irrevocably transformed.

Now, at first glance, some (especially those with, through no fault of their own, little Torah-true Jewish education, which is accompanied by the tendency to view everything in Judaism through the critical lens of the values and yardsticks of modern secular culture) may interpret this chosenness as somehow belittling non-Jews. As implying that they are somehow second-rate, unimportant, and even subhuman. As being what in our modern world is a cardinal sin—racist. But this is simply not so.

Let’s explain.[3] The natural order—and not only our physical world, but even the higher spiritual worlds—receive their sustenance from the divine name of Elokim. Thus, our sages say, “The name of Elokim is mentioned thirty-two times in the account of Bereshis (creation).” Now, this includes not only mankind, but even the awesome system of the sun, planets, and stars, which all possess intelligence and rotate constantly out of their excitement in singing the praise of Hashem—they too derive their existence from the name of Elokim. Even the incredibly pure and sublime beings known as angels, which reside in the higher spiritual realms—and not only the lower angels, such as the Ofanim, but even the highest of all, the Seraphim (see here)—they, too, derive their existence from the name of Elokim.

Then there is the name of Havayeh,[4] which represents a level of G–dliness that is supernatural and otherworldly. This is a level so lofty that until the Torah was given, no one had any access to it.[5] Until the giving of the Torah. At this unspeakably awesome, one-time occasion, Hashem chose to infuse the sublime level of Havayeh within every Jew.[6]

(This is the meaning of the Jew’s additional soul, the Nefesh HoElokis, the divine soul.[7] One might ask: Why is this soul is called a divine soul; after all, everything that exists has a soul that is divine, for Hashem created (and continually recreates) everything in existence? The answer is that the soul in all other beings comes from the name of Elokim, while the Jew possesses an additional soul that completely transcends the natural order, one that flows from Havayeh—the divine soul.)

However, this was only the beginning. Hashem then gave us a mission, a mission of the most unparalleled cosmic proportions. He charged us with the task of bridging the cosmic divide between Havayeh and Elokim, by revealing the name of Havayeh in the world.

To this end, He gave us the Torah, which is specifically called the Torah of Havayeh, and the Mitzvos, which are specifically called the Mitzvos of Havayeh. When we study the Torah and adhere to the Mitzvos, we reveal this level in the world around us, and to the gentile nations as well. This was in fact Hashem’s ultimate intent in creation, also known as “making a dwelling place for Hashem,”[8] for Havayeh, in the world and among the gentile nations, who stem from Elokim.

Since this is the ultimate purpose of creation, this mission carries the utmost responsibility and requires the utmost devotion and sacrifice. This is the meaning of Hashem’s statement that He made us “A kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”[9]

A Kohen, a priest, represents someone whose entire life, and every minute aspect of his life, is different from those of others. It is consecrated to Hashem.

And so Hashem gave us the Torah, which is related to the world hora’ah, guidance, for every single minute aspect of a Jew’s life, from the cradle to the grave, is guided by Torah. There is no area of life where Hashem does not provide guidance to his priests, the Jewish people, in His Torah.

This surely applies to the home, which the Jew is charged with making a Mikdash (sanctuary) for Hashem, regardless of where—in the kitchen, the living room, the bathroom, and the bedroom—the Torah guides the Jew how to bring the divine presence into all these places.

And it applies no less to the workplace, where a Jew is charged with the mission of setting an example of scrupulous honesty and integrity, and influencing his environment in a pleasant, peaceful manner, for of the Torah it is written, “Its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace.”[10] He should influence the Jews around him to adopt Torah observance, and the non-Jews around him[11] to believe in Hashem and Torah, and follow the Noahide Code—the eternal laws and principles of basic morality and decency incumbent upon all mankind.

This is not to say that non-Jews can’t connect to Hashem; on the contrary, they can and must, especially in light of the fact that they are created “in the image of Hashem.” However, the focus of their G–d-given mission is to abide by their Mitzvos, whose fundamental purpose is “yishuv ha’olam”—civilizing society, to settle the world physically and maintain a cohesive, peaceful, just, G–d-fearing social order, as it is written, “Not for chaos did He create it [the world, but rather] He formed it to be settled.”[12] It is this vital role for which non-Jews were assigned. Thus, non-Jews’ mission is related to the natural order, which stems from the name of Elokim, and this is the reason that the Noahide laws are rational laws that stem from the natural world. Thus, in order to accomplish this goal, non-Jews need not perform any of the Mitzvos specifically commanded to Jews.[13]

So Jews have a role—to reveal the name of Havayeh, and non-Jews have a very different role—to ensure the appropriate expression of the name of Elokim, through ensuring that the natural order follows the wishes of Hashem in His Torah.

Is this in a certain sense a lower mission than the mission given to the Jews? Yes. But so what—Hashem can do as He wishes—His will need not conform to the passing whims of the philosophical fads of mortals.

Moreover, every individual has a personal mission, one that differs from that of everyone else. Of these, Hashem clearly assigns different missions to different people—some receive more advanced, risky, responsible missions, and others, less challenging, more everyday ones.

Likewise, we find that only a Levi may sing in the Holy Temple, and only a Kohen may serve in it. I myself, for example, am not a Kohen, and as such I am barred from entering certain parts of the Holy Temple, and not allowed various Kohen privileges. But I am not bothered by that fact one bit, because since Hashem made me a non-Kohen, that role is clearly not what Hashem wants of me, and so I have been deprived of nothing.

Racism, in contrast, means refusing to treat someone with proper decency and respect simply because they belong to a group that one has some kind of animosity towards. However, the “Torah of light”[14] instructs clearly how one should view non-Jews: “Beloved is man, for he was created in the image [of Hashem].”[15] All mankind must be treated with the utmost respect, for they are beloved to Hashem by virtue of their special human intellect, which resembles the divine.

When a Jew assumes his role uncompromisingly and proudly, in addition to the inherent worth of this behavior, he also does a tremendous service for the world and all the gentile nations. He performs his role as priest, role model, and teacher to the nations, to illuminate and uplift them with the sublime spirituality of Havayeh for which he serves as a channel.

However, if the Jew chooses, may Hashem save us, to compromise his Torah observance and behave in inappropriate ways that conflict with Torah, behaviors typical of the secular culture, then not only does he harm himself grievously, but he also does a disservice to the nations by abdicating and thereby withholding from them his holy example, guidance, and the awesome revelation of Havayeh that they could have received through his unswerving allegiance to Torah.

[1] See at length Parashas Derachim, Rabbi Yehuda Rosanes.
[2] Yoma 48b.
[3] Cf. Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 25, pp. 186-192.
[4] Hashem has other names, but these are the primary ones, and the main ones relevant to this discussion.
[5] With some notable exceptions, such as Avraham, on a lower level, and Moshe, on a higher level. Further discussion of this is beyond the scope of this article.
[6] Likkutei Torah, Bamidbar 16d.
[7] See Tanya ch. 2, beg.
[8] Midrash Tanchuma, Naso 16. Explained in Tanya ch. 36.
[9] Shemos 19:6.
[10] Mishlei 3:17.
[11] As per Moshe Rabeinu’s instruction to the Jewish people at Sinai. Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings, 8:10.
[12] Yeshayah 45:18.
[13] However, it is praiseworthy for non-Jews to adopt certain Jewish practices on a voluntary basis, such as daily prayer, blessings on food, and so on, while other Mitzvos, which were meant exclusively for Jews and would therefore be spiritually harmful for non-Jews, are therefore forbidden for them, such as observing the Shabbos (Cf. Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings, 10:9. As explained in The Divine Code, Vol. I, Part I, Chapter 3, on “The Prohibition Against Making a New Religion or Adding a Commandment.”)
[14] Mishlei 6:23.
[15] Avos 3:14.

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