June 17, 2024
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June 17, 2024
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The Jewish People

Last week, we noted that the underlying theme of the creation narrative for both Rav Hirsch and Rav Lichtenstein is the charge for man to step into the circle of life. As the only creature granted free will, he is meant to utilize everything in creation in service of “developing and safeguarding the world,” giving meaning to every element by incorporating it into divine service.

This same theme of committing oneself to developing the world through dedication to others is clear from another “creation” story: the creation of Bnei Yisrael. We will illustrate this with Hashem’s opening words to Avraham Avinu and His preface to giving Bnei Yisrael the Torah at Har Sinai.

 

Be a Blessing

The curtains open on Parshas Lech Lecha with Hashem commanding Avraham to leave his birthplace and homeland behind and travel to “the land that I will show you.” If he does so, Hashem promises, he will be made into a great nation, he will be blessed and his name will be made great; but then the Torah adds another phrase, a puzzling one: “veheye bracha.” What does this mean? It cannot mean that Avraham will be blessed because that was just promised—“va’avarechacha!” What is the meaning of this phrase?

Rav Hirsch explains that this phrase is not part of the blessing, but the purpose of the command: “Veheye bracha—and be a blessing.” “I am sending you out to represent Me in the world and bring meaning to the lives of those around you.1 The nation that you will establish, wherever you arrive, will be tasked with lifting up humanity to the level that they were meant to reach on their own, until they lost their direction and drowned in a flood of their own making.”

Rav Hirsch writes:2 “ … This task, which you are to accomplish, in contrast to the efforts of all other nations, is ‘to become a blessing!’ All others strive, not to be a blessing, but to be blessed … In the midst of a world of men who stamp “naaseh lanu shem” as the motto on all their endeavors … the people of Abraham are—in private and public life—to follow the one calling: ‘heye bracha, to become a blessing.’ To dedicate themselves with all devotion to the divine purpose of bringing happiness to the world and mankind, thereby as models, to re-establish for man its original pure calling of Adam … ”

Hashem’s charge to Avraham, and by extension to the nation that Avraham was destined to establish, was heye bracha—be a blessing. And this is what Avraham did: he called out in the name of God, he cared for strangers passing through the desert and taught humanity to recognize their Creator.

 

Sinai: A Kingdom of Priests

Hundreds of years later, Hashem formally established Avraham’s descendants as this “model nation.” He redeemed them from slavery, acquiring them for Himself and brought them to Sinai to formalize His relationship with them. Now would be the perfect time to reiterate the purpose for which this nation was being formed. And, in fact, Hashem calls to Moshe upon arriving at the mountain and directs him to inform the people: “So shall you say to Beis Yaakov, and tell to Bnei Yisrael: ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and I carried you on the wings of eagles and brought you to Me. And now, if you will listen to my voice and observe My covenant, you will be my treasure (segulah) among all the people, for the entire world is Mine. And you shall be to Me, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to Bnei Yisrael.”3

Bnei Yisrael are told that they will be a mamleches Kohanim—a kingdom of priests, among the nations. Just as the Kohanim’s primary role among the Jewish people was to teach them Torah,4 so too, Bnei Yisrael’s role among the nations. In the words of the Seforno: “This will make you special (segulah) from the other nations, for you will be the kingdom of priests to teach and cause the entire human race to understand to call out in the name of God together, and to serve Him as one group, as will be the role of the Jewish people in the future …”5 As Bnei Yisrael stood on the cusp of receiving their constitution—their founding document—this pronouncement served as the goal of the entire endeavor: to model for the rest of the world what a God-centered life can look like. The Jewish people live not for themselves, but for the entire human race. They serve to bring humanity back to God—accomplishing His original purpose for the world.

 

Three Beginnings; One Message

Three different places in the Torah—each one the start of a new era in history—communicate the idea that man is meant to be focused on contributing to this world: The creation of man, calling him to join the symphony of Creation and dedicate himself to the ideal of “leovdah u’leshomrah;” Hashem’s selection of Avraham, informing him of his mission to “be a blessing” to the nations of the world and the introduction to Matan Torah, where Hashem declared our mission statement to be a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” informing the nations of the world of our shared imperative of avodas Hashem.

This, then, is the mindset of a soldier in the Great Battalion: We are meant to lead the way for the rest of humanity, reminding them that we are all meant to take part in this project of developing this world according to the vision of our commander-in-chief. Next week, we’ll continue with the Torah’s narrative to see the practical expression given to this guiding principle.

Tzvi Goldstein graduated from Yeshiva University with semicha and a degree in Psychology. After making aliyah, he taught in Yeshivat Hakotel for five years and now edits sefarim for a number of publishers. He recently published a sefer with Mosaica Press called, Halachic Worldviews, Exploring Rav Soloveitchik’s Approach to Developing Hashkafah From Halachah, and writes at tgb613.substack.com. You can reach him at [email protected].

 

1 See Bereishis Rabbah 39:11.

2 Commentary to the Torah, Bereishis 12:2.

3 Shemos 19:3–6.

4 See Devarim 33:10; Malachi 2:7; Rambam, Hil. Shemittah V’yovel 13:12.

5 Rabbi Avraham ben HaRambam explains similarly in his commentary to the Torah.

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