Chapter 4: A Nation on a Mission
The Role of the Jewish People
Mix ‘n Mingle
And yet, how is the correction to flow unto the nations? If the nation of Israel corrects itself, how will that affect any of the other nations?
When Abraham first discovered the Creator, he described it to whomever would listen, and those who joined him became the first corrected people. Those people then went to Egypt and finally emerged from it in much greater numbers, an entire nation. That nation received the Law of Correction, namely the Torah, and corrected itself. In the First Temple, the Jewish nation achieved its highest level of connection with the Creator, as demonstrated in the previous chapter. From there, the nation began to decline until its people were exiled to Babel. When they returned to the Land of Israel, the majority of the Jewish nation chose to stay in the diaspora and gradual assimilation commenced.
Indeed, this is how the passing on of the message began. When people who were once corrected—who had transcended self-interest and discovered the Creator—mingled with those who had never had such thoughts, those noble ideas began to spread within the host society, and help instigate more humane thoughts in people’s minds. While those were not corrected thoughts deriving from minds that had transcended egotism, the notions of universalism and humanism nevertheless began to take hold in people’s minds.
Indeed, during the Renaissance, several renowned scholars maintained that the Greeks had adopted at least some of their concepts from the Jews, in this case specifically from Kabbalah. Johannes Reuchlin (1455-1522), for example, the political counselor to the Chancellor, wrote in De Arte Cabbalistica (On the Art of Kabbalah): “Nevertheless, his [Pythagoras’] preeminence derived not from the Greeks, but again from the Jews. …He himself was the first to convert the name Kabbalah, unknown to the Greeks, into the Greek name philosophy.”[i]
In 1918, a French pastor, Charles Wagner, was quoted as having written, “None of the resplendent names in history—Egypt, Athens, Rome—can compare in eternal grandeur with Jerusalem. For Israel has given to mankind the category of holiness. Israel alone has known the thirst for social justice, and that inner saintliness which is the source of justice.”[ii]
More recently, Christian historian, Paul Johnson, wrote in A History of the Jews: “The Jewish impact on humanity has been protean. In antiquity they were the great innovators in religion and morals. In the Dark Ages and early medieval Europe they were still an advanced people transmitting scarce knowledge and technology. Gradually they were pushed from the van and fell behind; by the end of the eighteenth century they were seen as a bedraggled and obscurantist rearguard in the march of civilized humanity. But then came an astonishing second burst of creativity. Breaking out of the ghettos, they once more transformed human thinking, this time in the secular sphere. Much of the mental furniture of the modern world too is of Jewish fabrication.”[iii]
Similarly, In The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels, author Thomas Cahill, former director of religious publishing at Doubleday, describes the Jews’ contribution to the world, which, in his view, began during the exile in Babylon. “The Jews started it all,” he writes, “and by ‘it’ I mean so many of the things we care about, the underlying values that make all of us, Jew and Gentile, believer and aethiest, tick. Without the Jews, we would see the world through different eyes, hear with different ears, even feel with different feelings … We would think with a different mind, interpret all our experiences differently, draw different conclusions from the things that befall us. And we would set a different course for our lives.”[iv]
Interestingly, some renowned Jewish leaders also wrote about the spreading (and spoiling) of Jewish wisdom after the ruin of the First Temple. Rabbi Shmuel Bernstein of Sochatchov, for example, wrote, “The Greeks had the wisdom of philosophy, which originated from the writings of King Solomon that have come to their possession after the ruin of the First Temple. However, they were spoiled by them with subtractions, additions, and substitutions until false views mingled with them. And yet, the wisdom itself is good, but parts of the bad have mingled with it.”[v]
Baal HaSulam wrote similarly in “The Wisdom of Kabbalah and Philosophy”: “Sages of Kabbalah observe philosophic theology and complain that they have stolen the upper shell of their wisdom, which Plato and his Greek predecessors had acquired while studying with the disciples of the prophets in Israel. They have stolen basic elements from the wisdom of Israel and wore a cloak that is not theirs.”[vi]
[i] Johannes Reuchlin, De Arte Cabbalistica (Hagenau, Germany: Tomas Anshelm, March, 1517), 126.
[ii] Source: A Book of Jewish Thoughts, ed. J. H. Hertz (London: Oxford University Press, 1920), 134.
[iii] Paul Johnson, (Christian historian), A History of the Jews (New York: First Perennial Library, 1988), 585-6.
[iv] Thomas Cahill, The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels (New York: Nan A. Talese/Anchor Books (imprints of Doubleday), 1998), 3.
[v] Rabbi Shmuel Bornstein, Shem MiShmuel [A Name Out of Samuel], Miketz [At the End], TARPA (1921).
[vi] Rav Yehuda Leib HaLevi Ashlag (Baal HaSulam), The Writings of Baal HaSulam, “The Wisdom of Kabbalah and Philosophy” (Ashlag Research Institute: Israel, 2009), 38.