Chapter 4: A Nation on a Mission
The Role of the Jewish People
“Abraham was awarded the blessing of being as the stars of the heaven, Isaac, the blessing of the sand, and Jacob, as the dust of the earth, for the children of Israel were created to correct the whole of Creation.”
Yehuda Leib Arie Altar (ADMOR of Gur),
Sefat Emet [Language of Truth], Bamidbar [Numbers].
At the end of the previous chapter we asked, “If everything is all right, why is there so much wrong with the world?” and “If life’s fundamental law can be known to all, how come so few know it, especially now that we are we at a loss as to how to handle the multiple crises engulfing human society?” We said that to answer those questions, we need to understand how the knowledge of the law spreads, and how Jews are related to its spreading.
You may recall that in the Introduction, we established that once Abraham discovered that a single force was leading the world, he rushed to tell his countryfolk about his discovery. He posed no preconditions; he wished to share his newfound knowledge with everyone. Alas, neither his king, Nimrod, nor the people were ready to accept the notion that life’s governing force is one of bestowal, and that their goal in life, as we said in Chapter 1, is to reveal it through being similar, or even equal to it. The Babylonians of Abraham’s time were too preoccupied with building their tower and attempting to defy the laws of Nature.
As Abraham wandered through what is now the Near and Middle East on his way to Canaan, he gathered into his tent, and tenet, all who were able to comprehend his notions and commit to self-transformation from egotism to bestowal. Those people later became the nation of Israel, named so after the desire to reach straight for the Creator.
And yet, life’s four levels—still, vegetative, animate, and speaking—are a constant. They must be actualized to the fullest, and all those who physically belong to the speaking level must eventually achieve it spiritually, as well. The fact that not all Babylonians were ready to commit to changing themselves at Abraham’s time changes nothing in terms of the final purpose for which the human race exists. Hence, those who were ready and willing to commit became the “guardians” of the knowledge, entrusted with keeping and nurturing it for posterity.
In his essay, “The Arvut (mutual guarantee),” Baal HaSulam wrote, “[The Creator said] ‘You shall be My Segula [remedy/virtue] from among all peoples.’ This means that you will be My remedy, and sparks of purification and cleansing of the body shall pass through you onto all the peoples and the nations of the world. The nations of the world are not yet ready for it, and I need at least one nation to start with now, so it will be as a remedy for all the nations.”[i]
This quote, coupled with the words of Rabbi Altar, quoted in the beginning of this chapter, “The children of Israel were created to correct the whole of Creation,” and joined with the quotations below in this chapter, leaves little doubt as to the view of Jewish spiritual leaders throughout the ages regarding the role for which Jews exist in the world.
When Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt, he intended first and foremost to pass on to them the law he had learned himself, the law that Abraham had learned before him. His aim was to finish, or at least advance the mission that Abraham had started generations prior. Rav Moshe Chaim Lozzatto, the great Ramchal, wrote about it, “Moses wished to complete the correction of the world at that time. This is why he took the mixed multitude [self-centered people, without corrected desires], as he thought that thus would be the correction of the world that will be done at the end of correction … However, he did not succeed because of the corruptions that occurred along the way.”[ii] Despite the difficulties, writes Rabbi Isaac Wildman, “That was Moses’ prayer and blessing to the generation of the desert, that they would be the beginning of the correction of the world.”[iii]
Yet, the world had no wish for correction. The nations were not ready to relinquish self-love and embrace altruism—giving—as their prime quality. So in the meantime, the Israeli nation kept “polishing up” its own correction in wait for the rest of the nations to be ready and willing. In the words of Ramchal, “You should know … that Creation as a whole will not be completed until the whole of the chosen nation is arranged in the right order, completed in all its decorations, with the Shechina [Divinity] adhered to it. Consequently, the world will reach the complete state. …We must come to a state where the nation is fully complemented in all the required conditions, and the whole of Creation receives its completeness, and then the world will be established permanently in the corrected state.”[iv]
It follows that the Israeli nation serves as a channel by which correction, namely the quality of bestowal, should reach its intended recipients: the nations of the world. In his eloquent, florid style, Rav Kook details how he sees the role of the Jews regarding the rest of the nations. “As Israel’s vocation, being the nation of the Lord, is present, complete, apparent, lasting, and active in the world, it is a valid testimony for the world for all posterity to complement the form of the human race, to keep its characteristics, and to elevate it through the rungs of sanctity appropriate for it … which the Lord determined. And since our own vocation is ever standing, accompanying the vocation of the whole of Nature—whose law is to complete all creations and bring them to the apex of perfection—we must guard it devoutly for the life of us all, which is kept within it, and for the whole of humanity and its moral development, whose fate depends on the fate of our existence.”[v]
As shown in the Introduction to this book, the Rav Kook even goes so far as to say, “The genuine movement of the Israeli soul at its grandest is expressed only by its sacred, eternal force, which flows within its spirit. It is that which has made it, is making it, and will make it still a nation that stands as a light unto nations.”[vi]
In his book, Ein Ayah [A Hawk’s Eye], Rav Kook adds further: “Within Israel is a hidden sanctity of elevating the value of life itself through the Divinity that is present in Israel. The national soul of the Assembly of Israel aspires for the most sublime and exalted, to act in life by the most exalted and Godly value, by that same value that will make no person capable of asking, ‘What is the purpose of such a life?’ having seen the glory and sublimity of its pleasantness and magnificence. With utter completeness will it be completed within the house of Israel, and from it, it will radiate to the earth and to the whole world, ‘for a covenant of the people, for a light of the nations.’”[vii]
Similarly, Rabbi Naphtali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin (known as “The NATZIV of Volojin”) wrote, “Isaiah the prophet said, ‘I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations,’ that is, to correct the covenant, which is the faith, for every nation. They will be casting off the faith in idols and will believe in one God. Indeed, the covenant with Abraham our Father had been signed on that matter.”[viii]
[i] Rav Yehuda Leib HaLevi Ashlag (Baal HaSulam), The Writings of Baal HaSulam, “The Arvut [Mutual Guarantee],” item 28 (Ashlag Research Institute, Israel, 2009), 397.
[ii] Rav Moshe Chaim Lozzatto (Ramchal), The Commentary of Ramchal on the Torah, BaMidbar [Numbers].
[iii] Yitzhak Isaac Hever Wildman, Beit Olamim [A House Everlasting] (Warsaw, 1889), 130a.
[iv] Rav Moshe Chaim Lozzatto (Ramchal), Essay of the Tenets, (Oybervisha (Felsövisó) Romania, 1928), 15. Online source: http://www.hebrewbooks.org/33059
[v] Rav Abraham Isaac HaCohen Kook (Raaiah) (appeared in HaPeles, a rabbinical magazine, Berlin, Germany, 1901) (A. The Vocation of Israel and Its Nationality, Chapter 1, p 26).
[vi] HaRav Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook, Letters of the RAAIAH 3, 194-195.
[vii] Rav Abraham Isaac HaCohen Kook (Raaiah), Ein Ayah [A Hawk’s Eye], Shabbat 1, p 188.
[viii] Rabbi Naphtali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin (The NATZIV of Volojin), Haamek Davar [Delve Deep in the Matter] about Devarim [Deuteronomy], Chapter 27:5.