May 27, 2024
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Part II

כָּל מַה שֶּׁבָּרָא הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא בְּעוֹלָמוֹ, לֹא בְרָאוֹ אֶלָּא לִכְבוֹדוֹ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (ישעיה מג), כֹּל הַנִּקְרָא בִשְׁמִי וְלִכְבוֹדִי בְּרָאתִיו יְצַרְתִּיו אַף עֲשִׂיתִיו, וְאוֹמֵר (שמות טו), ה’ יִמְלֹךְ לְעֹלָם וָעֶד (אבות ו:יא).

As we saw last week, Pirkei Avot teaches that the world was created for the glory of God. Though the whole universe proclaims this notion, man is created with a unique ability to appreciate this. After the failures and challenges of humanity’s first generations, Avraham Avinu emerges as the one who recognizes this calling. This is the backdrop to the purpose and mission of the Jewish people.

 

Our Purpose and Importance

The Midrash1 learns from an additional pasuk (that appears in the same perek of sefer Yeshayahu quoted by the Mishnah2) that the Jewish people were created in order to sing Hashem’s praises. The Midrash takes this further by asserting that the Jewish people themselves embody God’s glory, and that one of the purposes of their galut is to spread God’s word around the world.

This explains why the Jewish people are so central to the world’s creation and continued existence. Rashi3 (quoting the Midrash) derives this idea from the Torah’s very first word, Bereishit.4 Rashi explains that the word teaches us that the world was created for those called reishit: the Torah and the Jewish people. Since the world’s raison d’etre is to honor Hashem, it focuses on Am Yisrael who learn Torah and affirm Hashem’s honor by living Torah-inspired lives.

The Netziv5 uses Creation’s focus on the Jews’ learning of Torah to explain the Behag’s characterization of Sefer Shemot as “Sefer Hasheni.” Why would Shemot be described as a continuation of Sefer Bereishit and not given its own independent identity? The Netziv explains that the name reflects the fact that Creation, and thereby Sefer Bereishit, were not completed until the Jewish people accepted the Torah in Sefer Shemot.6 Sefer Shemot is the completion and thus the continuation of Sefer Bereishit.

 

Our Role: Kiddush Hashem

This helps explain the centrality of kiddush Hashem (sanctification of God’s name) and the severity of chillul Hashem (desecration of His name). Like the prohibition against idolatry, chillul Hashem is one of the few aveirot we are commanded to avoid even at the cost of our lives. In fact, the Gemara7 teaches that chillul Hashem is even more severe than avodah zarah. “Better for a person to serve avodah zarah than to desecrate the name of God.” The Sefer HaChinuch explains that “the root of this commandment is well-known: man was created only to serve his Creator.”8

This beautifully explains why, in the “Al Hanisim” prayer recited on Chanukah, we mention: “And You made Yourself a great and sanctified name in Your world” before “And for Your people, Yisrael, You performed a great deliverance and redemption unto this very day.”9 One would have expected the order of these phrases to be reversed; first mention the salvation of klal Yisrael, and then the kiddush Hashem?! The actual order teaches that kiddush Hashem is of greater importance than our own salvation!

 

Our Eternality

This is also how the Midrash explains why the Jewish people are eternal. Based on another pasuk in Sefer Yeshayahu,10 the Midrash teaches that just as Hashem is eternal, so too are the Jewish people who proclaim His glory and sing His praises.11

Yechezkel Hanavi builds off this idea regarding both the Jewish people’s past and their future. In Perek 20 he describes how, even though the Jews were not worthy of redemption, Hashem took them out of Mitzrayim anyway in order to avoid a chillul Hashem.12 Similarly, even when the Jews continued rebelling against Him in the desert, Hashem maintained a relationship with them—again, in order to avoid a chillul Hashem.13

In Perek 36, Yechezkel Hanavi speaks about the great chillul Hashem generated by the Jewish people being in galut. The central goal of the eventual redemption is to counteract this chillul Hashem with a bigger kiddush Hashem.14

 

Our Unity

Our definition and mission as the people created to sing Hashem’s praises is meant to unify15 all Jews.16 Sefer Amos describes the Jewish people as “Hashem’s group (that He founded) on Earth.”17 We should aim to foster unity through our shared mission, seeing ourselves as equal members of Hashem’s “team.” This achdut is not just an ideal; it is a mitzvah. Chazal18 employ Amos’s words as the philosophical (and textual) basis of the prohibition against our dividing into separate groups. Our view of ourselves as Hashem’s people should keep us from subdividing.

This is the logic behind the famous Midrash19 that compares the Jewish people, when divided, to an individual who drills a hole under his seat on the boat he shares with others. We, the Jewish people, have a shared mission of highlighting the glory of God in the world; we should all be working on this together, unified as one.

Ideally, this mission should unify not only all Jews, but also all humanity. Based on our Mishnah, the Ramchal posits that when each part of God’s world properly fulfills its purpose and mission, it connects with the rest of the universe as one entity totally focused on appreciating and celebrating God’s presence in our world.20

The Jewish people are meant to inspire all of humanity to recognize this common goal. Tzefanya21 speaks about how Hashem will eventually bring the whole world to “clearly invoke Hashem’s name and serve Him together.” Tzefanya’s language calls to mind the Torah’s description of the builders of the tower of Bavel. They too were unified, but their goal was glorifying their own name. Eventually, the world will be unified in celebrating Hashem’s name as one.

This is the vision we speak about in the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur tefillot: the day when all of humanity “will form a single band to do Your (Hashem’s) will with a perfect heart.”

May we, the Jewish people, use our shared purpose to unify ourselves, and subsequently all mankind, and highlight God’s glory in the world—together.

*Written up by Yedidyah Rosenwasser


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


1 Medrash Rabbah Bamidbar 5:6.

2 Yeshayahu 43:21.

3 Rashi, Bereishit 1:1.

4 Bereishit 1:1.

5 Netziv, Ha’emek Davar; Introduction to Sefer Shemot. Understandably, the Netziv builds off our Mishnah.

6 This also explains why Hashem hinged creation upon the Jewish people’s acceptance of Torah (Gemara Avodah Zarah 3a).

7 Sanhedrin 107a. The Rambam’s inclusion of the topic in his Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah (Perek 5) also reflects its significance.

8 Sefer HaChinuch 296:2.

9 “Al Hanisim,” Siddur Tefilah, Amida.

10 Yeshayahu 48:11.

11 Medrash Rabbah Bamidbar 5:6. This idea is expressed by Moshe Rabbeinu in his tefillah to Hashem after the chet ha’egel (Shemot 32:12). Moshe defends the Jews with the claim that their destruction would negatively impact God’s own name and reputation. In addition to our existence playing a positive role, our destruction (chas v’shalom) would have a negative impact.

12 Yechezkel 20:9.

13 Yechezkel 20:14.

14 Yechezkel 36:20–26.

15 Rav Kook, in a very powerful piece (Olat Hareiyah, Likutim pg. 247), writes about how shalom and achdut can be rooted either in simple utilitarian goals of wanting to be able to function together as a society, or, ideally, in the sharing of common goals. When it is the former, the achdut lasts only as long as the utilitarian benefits apply. When the peace and unity are motivated by shared goals, they can truly be long lasting.

16 This joint definition and mission should be the base of a healthy marriage. This is why the first brachah of Sheva Brachot is “she’hakol bara lichvodo.” Though this brachah does not mention marriage, we begin with it because awareness of and commitment to this joint goal can help a couple transcend their natural selfishness and commit to live and work together with one another.

This idea is expressed in the Tehillim 128 (recited by German Jews at the chuppah), which describes how yirei shamayim have their family unified around them. They provide their family with a higher mission they can all rally around.

17 Amos 9:6.

18 Sifri, Re’eh piska 44.

19 Vayikra Rabbah 4:6.

20 Ramchal, Da’at Tevunot 125-126.

21 Tzefanya 3:9. This reminds us of the generation of the flood, who were (improperly) unified by their own name.

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