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13 Elul 5763 - September 10, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
Am Segulah -- A Unique Nation, A Holy Nation

by Yisroel Spiegel

"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 yet all.

"Also every sickness and every plague which is not written in this book of Torah shall Hashem bring upon you until you are destroyed" (61).

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 commandments.

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 HaChaim Hakodosh).

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 destroyed."

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" (Yeshaya 60:1-3).

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