May 20, 2024
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All In: The Segula of the Jewish People

כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל יֵשׁ לָהֶם חֵלֶק לָעוֹלָם הַבָּא, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר וְעַמֵּךְ כֻּלָּם צַדִּיקִים… (אבות, הקדמה; סנהדרין י:א)

Last week we learned about our special son-father relationship with Hashem. Our unique status is also evident in the mishna we recite before learning Pirkei Avot, which confirms that all Jews have a place in Olam Haba.1


We All Have Hope

The Machzor Vitri (a talmid of Rashi) explains that we recite this mishna before learning Pirkei Avot because it inspires all Jews—even the uneducated and the sinners—to learn Torah and seek growth. Since we all have a portion in the next world, we should all seek to further cultivate that portion by improving ourselves.2

The Sefat Emet3 identifies the same approach in Rava’s opinion regarding informing the uneducated about their ability to fulfill the mitzvah of Talmud Torah. The great tanna Rav Shimon Bar Yochai held that one fulfills the mitzvah through even a bit of Torah learning each day and each night. Out of fear that people would settle for this minimal amount, he insisted that this halacha be withheld from the masses. Though Amoraim generally avoid disagreement with Tannaim, the Amora Rava does so here. He takes the opposite position—that it is a mitzvah (!) to let the masses know this halacha.4 The Sefat Emet explains that Rava disagreed with Rav Shimon because he wanted those with little time available to know that they, too, could fulfill the mitzvah of Talmud Torah.5


Eventual Arrival

Tosafot6 also emphasized the idea of Jewish inclusiveness in Olam Haba. Though the Gemara teaches that reshaim are “written and sealed for Gehenom” and then quotes a pasuk7 that seems to imply that they are “forever damned,” Tosafot comments that even they eventually gain entry to Olam Haba.

This view of sinners can be understood through the Gemara in Brachot8 that teaches that even the “emptiest” Jews are full of mitzvot just like a pomegranate is full of seeds.9 All Jews—even those furthest from Torah and mitzvah observance—are full of mitzvot and therefore have a place in Olam Haba.


Segula and Jewish Identity

Our guaranteed place in Olam Haba may be connected to something more intrinsic. In the leadup to Matan Torah, Hashem proposed establishing the Jewish people as His am segula,10 His beloved treasure. This seems to describe a quality intrinsic to every Jew, irrespective of his life choices. We are born precious, and we die and enter Olam Haba the same way.11

Rav Kook12 used this segula concept to explain why he supported the Zionist settlers even though many were non-religious or even anti-religious. He identified their connection to the segula aspect of Judaism as the source of their focus on the nationalistic aspects of Jewish peoplehood and the Land of Israel. Even though they were gravely mistaken in their decision to disregard mitzvah observance, their identification as Jews and their actions on behalf of our people and land still had value.13

Rav Kook’s association of Judaism’s segula side with Jewish national identity finds support in a powerful piece by Rav Tzadok Hakohen. Building off a pasuk in Sefer Yeshayahu,14 Rav Tzadok highlighted Jewish identity as the central principle of Judaism and asserted that even if Jewish identity is all that one has, it is “enough” of a basis for a (somewhat) meaningful existence.15


Tzaddikim Together

In another piece, Rav Kook16 related to the pasuk that our mishna quotes as a prooftext: “V’ameich kulam tzaddikim.” The simple translation of the pasuk is, “And your people are all righteous.” Rav Kook, though, had a powerful, broader interpretation. He explained the pasuk as saying that people are considered tzaddikim only when they are connected to the rest of the Jewish people—even the reshaim.

He used this interpretation as (part of) the basis for his objection to the secession of Orthodox Jewish communities from the broader (predominantly) non-Orthodox European Jewish communities. Tzaddikim are those who are connected to the rest of the Jewish people.17

Rav Kook explained that no matter how bad reshaim may be, as long as they identify with the Jewish people, they remain part of “V’ameich kulam tzaddikim.” Even if they act inappropriately, they are still part of the “aging wine” of the Jewish nation (even if only the “sediments”).


Guaranteed Inspiration

May the knowledge that mere identification with the Jewish people ensures our place amongst them in this world and gains us entry into the next world inspire us to take full advantage of both.

Rabbi Reuven Taragin is the dean of overseas students at Yeshivat HaKotel.

1 The source of the mishnah is Sanhedrin 10:1.

2 Machzor Vitri, Siman 424. The Rambam (in his peirush on the mishna in Sanhedrin) explains the goal of the mishnah in its context in Sanhedrin in a similar way. After the last perakim of Sanhedrin speak about sinners executed by Beit Din for their sins, this mishnah emphasizes that though these people are killed because of their grievous sins, they still have a portion in Olam Haba.

3 Sefat Emet, Menachot 99b.

4 Menachot 99b.

5 This recalls the Gemara in Brachot (10a), which tells us that when Chizkiyahu was told by Yeshayahu that he was going to die and that there was nothing he could do about it, he responded sharply: “I have a custom from the house of my father’s father that even if the guillotine is on a person’s neck, it is never too late.” There is always hope.

6 Rosh Hashana 17a, d.h. ki.

7 Daniel 12:2.

8 Brachot 47a.

9 See, which shows that the worldwide average for seeds in a pomegranate is 613 (!).

10 Shemot 19:5.

11 See the Kuzari (1:91), who writes that after being passed down from Adam Harishon to Yaakov Avinu through select individuals, all of Yaakov’s children inherited this segula nature and passed it on to all future Jews. 

12 Igrot Hare’iyah, pg.186.

13 Rav Kook went further in saying that the segula side of Judaism is more important than the decision to observe mitzvot. He also explained that the reason these people were abandoning religious practice was because they perceived that it was irrelevant to those focused on the segula (nationalistic, connection-to-Israel, connection-to-each-other) aspect of Judaism. He felt it should be the mission of religious people to show the Zionists the connection between both aspects of Judaism.

14 Yeshayahu 44:5.

15 Tzidkat Hatzadik, 44.

16 Orot Hatechiya, 20.

17 Rav Kook compared the secession to the story of the two women who claimed motherhood over the same baby before Shlomo Hamelech, who knew that the true mother would never allow her baby to be cut in half. Similarly, a Jewish community should never allow itself to be divided.

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