by Yisroel Spiegel
Am Segulah -- A Unique Nation, A Holy Nation
"And it shall be if you do not heed the voice of Hashem your
G-d to guard and perform all of His commandments and statutes
which I command you today, then all of these curses shall be
brought upon you and shall overtake you" (Ki Sovo).
The curses delineated in the portion of the tochochoh
are of the harshest ever to befall a nation on earth, whereby
all the life systems of the individual and the collective
nation collapse. The day is worse than the night, and the
night that follows is worse than the preceding day. "In the
morning you shall say: would that evening came, and in the
evening you shall say: would that it were morning"
(ibid. 67). Hunger gnaws, thirst sucks up one's very
marrow. Disease rages rampant; national security crumbles.
"And he shall besiege you in all your gates, until your high
and fortified walls wherein you trusted come down, throughout
all your land" (ibid. 52). A foreign invader,
conquering and ruling. Ninety-eight curses, and this is not
"Also every sickness and every plague which is not written in
this book of Torah shall Hashem bring upon you until you are
These difficult warnings and threats are said to the Jewish
people at the advent of that happy moment preceding their
entry into Eretz Yisroel, as is alluded to in the beginning
of this parsha. "And it shall come to pass, when you
come . . . " The choice of the conjugation "vehoyoh"
denotes joy, to show that no joy compares to that of settling
in Eretz Yisroel. Similarly did Dovid Hamelech say, "Then was
our mouth filled with laughter."
This naturally sounds somewhat strange and implausible. Is
this the way one cushions the road at the very threshold of
the realization of the promised dream?
The nation has been liberated from the bondage of Egypt, has
already experienced the hardships of desert nomadry and has
not even breathed the free air of the mountaintops of the
marvelous Promised Land. And already they are being warned
and threatened that this-and- this will come to pass if they
fail to obey the word of Hashem and guard all of His
This anticipated moment preceding the realization of the
dream of independence upon sovereign soil should be suffused
with ecstasy. The masses should be bursting with joy,
exploding into song, frolicking in exuberant dance.
Nevertheless, we see the people being given a very gloomy
forecast of what will transpire in the future if they fail to
heed the Torah. Indeed, our suffering-steeped history can
testify to the veracity of these predicted imprecations.
This very fact informs us in advance that we are not like
other nations, nor can we draw any comparisons between what
happens to them and what applies to us. At the very moment
that other nations realize their dream of self determination
and achieve independence as sovereign masters of their land
and government, they cease being dependent.
As for us, we must always answer to the primary condition
that is demanded of us, "And it shall be when you come to the
land . . . That one should know in his heart that it is not
his strength nor the might of his power that has gained for
him the inheritance of the land, rather it is a gift from
Hashem. Therefore does it say, `Which Hashem your G-d gives
you.' And the Torah specifically states, `Hashem your G-d' to
convey that it is on condition of your accepting His rule
over you that He is giving you this land" (ibid., Ohr
It is stated in the present tense because He is constantly
giving it to you. It was not a one-time gift of the past
after which it was forever our inheritance, but it is always
conditional. We are continually dependent upon the Giver and
His act of giving. Everything is His, and without His
pronounced "giving to you," we have nothing.
This situation in which we are forced to constantly be in a
position of spiritual elevation, from which -- if we fall, we
are immediately vulnerable to suffering and danger -- is also
what singles us out. People are liable to think along
pragmatic lines that due to our plentiful suffering in the
long exile we are worse off than other nations, when actually
the very fact that we are still alive and carrying on the
chain of our generations all the way back to Avrohom Ovinu
proves beyond doubt that we are unique and that all
considerations of our continued existence differ from those
of any other nation.
In the times of the dreadful Holocaust, the Gaon R' Mordechai
Pogromansky ztvk'l extracted words of solace for the
students who were forced to be exiled from Yeshivas Telz,
from the very words found in our painful parsha: "Even
every sickness and every plague which is not written in this
Torah shall Hashem visit upon you until you are
This verse, he said, needs introspection, since if it is so
written, how can one logically reconcile the words " . . .
not written in this Torah"?
The answer is that there are some blows that are included in
the Torah and others that are beyond its scope. These are the
blows that threaten the very existence and survival of our
people. These go beyond the Torah and can never come to pass
since Hashem explicitly promised that His people will never
disappear from the face of the earth, that they will endure
forever. As is written in Ha'azinu, "My arrows will I
consume in them" -- verily shall the arrows be consumed, but
they will never be totally consumed.
In instances such as these when the nations smite Israel with
blows that are beyond the scope of the Torah, it is the
beginning of their downfall for they can never succeed in
annihilating us (from Shulchan Govoha, p. 209).
The underlying principle highlights the uniqueness and
singularity of the Jewish nation, which is an am
segulah as well as a holy nation, two separate attributes
as was pointed out by HaGaon R' Arye Leib Rubin from
Vilkomir, according to our parsha. "Hashem has
avouched you this day to be a people for His own possession
as He has promised you, and that you should keep all His
commandments, and to make you high above all nations which He
has made . . . and that you may be a holy people to Hashem
your G-d as He has spoken" (26:18- 19).
"It is a halochoh in the gemora (Beitza
20a) that if a person says: `Give four hundred coins to Ploni
so that he may marry my daughter,' the law allows for Ploni
to take the four hundred coins, but he is not obligated to
marry her. But if he first states the option that Ploni marry
his daughter and then take the four hundred coins, then it is
conditional that only the one who marries her is able to
claim the money; if he does not meet that condition, he will
not receive the money.
"We can apply this law to our verse here, where it is stated,
`And to be unto Me a chosen nation -- a people for His own
possession' and only afterwards does it state ` . . . and
that you shall keep all of His commandments.' Consequently,
Israel's being singled as an am segulah is a fact that
exists for all time, even if they do not keep the condition
of `to keep all of the commandments.' To be sure, the Jewish
people will be duly punished for not keeping them properly.
However, in order to be called a `holy nation', they must
fulfill the stipulation of `keeping all the commandments,'
which precedes the statement of `and for you to be a holy
nation unto Hashem your G-d'" (ibid., p. 194).
The Jewish people can, G-d forbid, forfeit its distinction as
a holy nation if they do not fulfill the provision of keeping
all the commandments, but they can never lose their advantage
of being an am segulah. They will always be uniquely
apart, even if they become lax or fall so low as to deny the
distinct conditions required of them. And if at the level of
a holy nation they are outstandingly so in their superiority
and blatantly sanctified and separated from the vanities of
this world, then even as a mere am segulah they are
nevertheless distinct from the entire human race through the
suffering which they are subject to, the tribulations and
troubles that beset them and which is their portion according
to a Divine plan where we must be cleansed from our sins and
duly punished therefore. This is our singular factor, that we
are always in a situation of being Hashem's unique nation
even when He deems to punish us, be it through the most
horrendous retribution that befall us.
"For as a man chastises his son, so does Hashem your G-d
chastise you" (Devorim 8:5). This relationship and
association is unique to the Jewish people, which is like a
son unto Hashem. "The Torah means to state that a person
should reach the realization in his heart that it is natural
for a person to chastise and punish only his own son, for he
is deeply and personally concerned over his misdeeds. In the
same manner does Hashem punish and chastise us. In other
words, if the nations of the world do evil and practice
abominations, He is not as concerned or exacting as He is
regarding your sins. This is why He punishes you for every
infraction and evildoing" (Ohr HaChaim Hakodosh).
The unique factor of the Jewish people is to its advantage
and its disadvantage alike. It merits immeasurable greatness
and distinction when it fulfills the covenant which Hashem
made with it upon the threshold of its entry into the
Promised Land: "For Hashem your G-d is bringing you to a good
land, a land of water streams, springs . . . flowing in the
valley and the mountain."
But "If it shall come to pass that you do forget Hashem your
G-d . . . I hereby adjure you that you shall verily be
destroyed." This warning was never uttered to any other
nation, only to the Jewish people, which has no intermediate
stage. They are either good or bad. This is their unique
characteristic -- their extremity and polarity.
"This nation is compared to the dust and compared to the
stars. When they descend, they plummet to the very dust, and
when they rise, they rise to the very stars"
(Megilla). Mediocrity belongs to average nations with
which Hashem has nothing to do. But the Jewish people can
never, under any circumstances, compare to them.
We surely see this in the painful and tragic reality of the
spiritual recession by large segments of our people today,
when the dissolute moral regression plummets them to the
lowest abyss, all for their futile attempt to be like all
other nations and release themselves from the historic
destiny of the Jewish people to be Hashem's Chosen Nation.
So it is on the personal plane where it has been proven time
and again that it is impossible to descend to a minimal level
of Judaism. When one begins to compromise and dilute it, the
spiral is downward to nothingness.
So is it on the national or public level, as was witnessed in
so many Jewish communities and circles, where they began
conceding here and there, watering Yiddishkeit down to
the point that no vestige was left.
We live in this reality within the Jewish State as well, a
state whose founders presumed to label "A new nation." A
nation with less than minimal affinity to the sacred
tradition and heritage of our people, so that it could closer
resemble the `enlightened' nations of the world. But this
state finds its identity neither in the material, practical
sense, nor in the spiritual one. It is perpetually threatened
upon all of its borders, and by the entire world as well. For
aside from the danger of war, it is also subject to the
threat of international jurisdiction, where its leaders and
military heads are indicted for what the world calls `war
crimes,' while the secular society in it is being constantly
depleted of every vestige of spirituality.
How important a historic lesson must we derive from this
development! In spite of all the sycophantic ma yofis
attempts to find favor in the eyes of the so-called cultured,
modern world, this state is being shunted backward and
continually being blamed for the most despicable deeds, that
have even been compared to chilling accusations which we
cannot even deign to mention.
Everything is turning out the exact opposite of what the
founders imagined and schemed. The Jewish nation has only one
way with which to rouse the sympathy and admiration of the
world: "And you shall heed them and do them, for it is your
wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations,
who will hear all of these statutes and they shall say:
Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.
For what nation is there so great that has G-d so near to
them as is Hashem our G-d in all things that we call upon Him
for? And what nation is there so great that has statutes and
judgments so righteous as all this Torah which I set before
you this day?" (Devorim 4:6-8).
The Maskilim and founders of Zionism sought to achieve
precisely the opposite of this. They wanted us to descend
from the level of the People of Hashem to the lower degree of
a mediocre nation, despised and abused. The Agudist
ideologist, Rabbi Dr. Yitzchok Breuer, predicted some sixty
years ago what would happen if they succeeded in their plans:
"Zionism comes with empty hands to the land of our ancestors.
Not for this purpose did our people and our land suffer and
sigh for two millennia. Their victory may even enrich the
wealth of nations with a new nation, but it will be a very
uninteresting one, and humanity will be impoverished by the
loss of a nation of unique originality. It will rob it of its
hope, perhaps its last and final hope!"
This nation has no other way but to return to its status of
am kodosh, since it is impossible to remove its seal
of being an am segulah. It is distinguished among the
nations by virtue of its historic suffering, its
idiosyncrasies, and even by the attempts of large sectors of
it to deny this role and heritage and distance itself from
its Judaism. Its nature and its reality prevent it from
turning into a nation devoid of its uniqueness and lineage.
This is what happens to us when we have in our midst many
informers and slanderers who rush off to the gates of the
nations in order to castigate and defame us and delineate us
as the worst of the worst.
Nothing will avail them to evade the status of am
segulah. Yechezkel Hanovi railed against this and warned
us pointedly, when he said, "And that which comes to your
mind shall never come about, that you say: We will be like
the nations, like the families of the countries, to serve
wood and stone. As I live, says Hashem, surely with a mighty
hand and with an outstretched arm, and with anger poured out,
will I be King over you" (20:32-33).
Whoever deludes himself into thinking that if all of us, or
some of us -- that is, the new leaders who have foisted
themselves upon the Jewish people -- shall stop being a `holy
nation,' they will `liberate' themselves from the yoke of
punishments against which we are warned; this is direly
mistaken. "For this thing that you conceive in your thoughts
shall not come to pass." What you say: Since Hashem cast us
off from His face, we shall therefore be like the idolaters
and abominators who worship wood and stone and like them, we
will not fall under the special Divine Providence of Hashem
etc. The words `Im lo -- surely' is a form of oath
which He made, saying, that against your will shall Hashem
impose His rule upon you (Metzudos Dovid).
The Jewish people has no choice in the matter, as a nation,
even though an individual can exercise free choice. "Whoever
comes to be defiled, is permitted to do so" (Shabbos
104a). But the nation, collectively, does not have this
option and cannot release itself from the binding obligation
of the covenant with Hashem and His Torah. "And that which
comes to your mind shall never be."
For you have made your decision, out of your own volition, in
the times of Yehoshua (Rashi, Yechezkel 20:32). See
the Malbim there: "For even if the overt Divine Providence
has been removed to perform open miracles and to shine upon
you the light of Hashem's countenance in goodness and
blessing, even so, regarding the matter of My rule being
imposed over you, [know that] My hand is yet outstretched to
coerce you forcibly through punishments and troubles to be
under My rule and My servitude."
The only choice given to collective Jewry is between being a
sanctified nation or merely a chosen one, alone. For then, as
in the words of the Malbim, "My hand is outstretched to
coerce you forcibly through punishments and troubles to be
under My rule and My servitude." But in the other
circumstance, where Jewry is also `the sanctified nation', it
merits an outpouring of munificence and light, as is stated
in this week's Haftorah:
"Rise up, brighten up, for your light has come and the glory
of Hashem has shone upon you . . . And the nations shall walk
by your light and kings by the glow of your radiance"
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