Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

11 Sivan 5762 - May 22, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
"And You Shall be My Own Treasure from all the Nations"

by Moshe Ben Shmuel

HaGaon R' Yehuda Leib Tzirelson zt'l from Kishinev, clarified as follows:

Two opposing aspirations have clashed within us ever since we became a nation.

The first is to fully and perfectly fulfill the Divine commandment that is stated proudly in the Torah: "And you shall be My own treasure from all the nations." Hashem desires and expects the Jewish People to rise above the other nations of this world in their religion and faith, that their worthy attributes become a model of conduct and a source of pride, that their social and communal life be exemplary and outstanding compared to all other nations.

The second aspiration is in complete conflict, and that is to be precisely like all other nations; not to be different or exalted in any way, as is written in the times of King Shaul, "And the People refused to heed the voice of Shmuel and they said: We would also be like all the nations (Shmuel I 8:20)."

These opposite strivings are both chauvinistic in nature. But how vast is the difference between them. While the first desire, to be a chosen, select and elite nation, elevates the Jewish people, solidifies them into a unified bloc and surrounds them with the protective wall of Torah and mitzvos, the second goal aims at effacing the Divine form from our people and erasing its destiny while sending it hurtling to the abyss of assimilation among the world's nations.

This struggle began at the very onset of our nationhood, at the very time we were informed: "On this very day you have become a nation unto Hashem your G- d." This conflict is perpetuated throughout the generations and in all periods of our history, to this very day.

During the golden era of the inception of Jewish nationhood, as a result of the revelation at Sinai and the receiving of the Torah, we heard this very call issuing from Moshe Rabbenu in a moving and thunderous voice: "Pay note and hear, Yisrael! Upon this very day you have become a nation." This means that on the day of mattan Torah and the joining in an eternal covenant with the Torah, you were transformed into a nation, and not any random nation, but the People of Hashem. This is an irrevocable condition; our very nationhood is bound up with the condition of its Divine purpose, to be Hashem's own People. It is an outspoken declaration which echoes throughout all generations ever since that historic occasion. The very essence of our nationhood is indivisibly bound up with this divine injunction and bears the G-dly seal.


In this manner is the history of the Jewish People different from that of other nations. Our People came into being upon assuming the yoke of Divine Kingdom, at Sinai. Upon that day did it spring into existence. No other nation can boast such a beginning. Other ancient nations, like the Greeks or the Romans, began as idolaters and were unified in accepting a different religion which changed their national character so that henceforth, they practiced Christianity.

With the Jews it was different.

The Jewish People did not exist as a nation in any organized manner before accepting the covenant of the Torah. Before that, in Egypt, they were oppressed slaves. But at the moment that they declared their allegiance through "na'aseh venishma," they clearly asserted that the Jewish religion and its nationhood were inseparably joined together, like the fire contained in a smoldering coal.

Simultaneously, however, the contrary desire sprung into being. Only a short time passed from the historic event at Mt. Sinai before a large segment of the People rose up and demanded that Aharon "make us a G-d that will go before us." They demanded an idolatrous intermediary, just like the idols worshiped in Egypt, for they wanted to be "just like all the nations." And they had the audacity to demand that they continue on to the Land of Canaan, with their G-d "showing us the way."


The historical result of this negative approach, of becoming free of the yoke of Torah and Judaism, has always been destructive. History proves that nationality in such an atmosphere has always led to self destruction and oblivion.

The reason for this is obvious, for there is a fundamental and qualitative difference between the two negating desires, even if the second aspiration is cloaked in the guise of chauvinism. What is the difference? While patriotism without religion is based only on sentiment, like the willingness to sacrifice for the fatherland or for the tribe, the loyalty which derives its power from the tenets of the Torah is able to unite separate factions into one solid bloc.

The results become apparent through the looking glass of history. National patriotism not bound with religion will have no lasting substance, even if it has a common racial bond. The sentiment of tribal or family loyalty will fall away when it comes in conflict with a person's self interests, for his self-love is stronger than his love of family. And when it is more advantageous for a person to assimilate among gentiles, he will abandon his family ties and serve his own needs.

Patriotism which is grounded in the Jewish religion and is buttressed by the embracing experience of Torah and mitzvos is solid and everlasting since religion supersedes a person's self-love. The proof is that self- love did not stand in the way of myriads of Jews sacrificing their lives for their faith, or living it in hardship for the sake of their beliefs. Torah was always uppermost, the highest consideration, not exchangeable for the promises and enticements of our enemies at the price of assimilation.

This, then, is the secret of our existence. Neither persecution or Inquisitional torture could make the Jewish People forsake its religion. This is our guarantee of eternity.


In these modern times, another attempt is being made to divide the loyal ones and to declare a new brand of secular patriotism. Israeli national loyalty is totally divorced from the Jewish religion and is based upon the age-old motto of "Let the House of Israel be like unto all the nations."

But nationalism divorced from our sacred religion takes on two different faces. The Haskalah movement coined the modern motto which was lifted from that of the French Revolution, namely, that religion is a private matter that has nothing to do with patriotism. They formulated it thus: "Be a man among men, and a Jew in your tent." In other words, don't be different; blend in with the world outside and erase all distinguishing marks, such as dress, language and customs. In short: everything. If you still desire to hold onto your differences, keep them to yourself, hide them within your four walls.

National movements of a new kind sprang up which urged Jews to demonstrate their nationalism outwardly, to speak Yiddish, to publish newspapers and literature in that distinctive dialect and so on.

They tried to provide a new motto for the Jewish people: "Be a Jew among men, and a man in your tent." In other words, at home, a Jew need not practice his Judaism. Suffice it to exhibit his difference on the outside, to be proud of his individualism and show his superiority, his blatant nationalism. As for religious practice, that was totally unnecessary so long as he presented himself as a Jew to the world and was not ashamed of it, so long as he demanded his rights and refused to be downtrodden. Heritage? Nonsense.

In what way did he express any vestige of Judaism? What still connected him to the body of Jews? That was irrelevant. You could do whatever you wished in the home, so long as you were proud of your nationality.

These two mottoes are diametrically opposed.

The Jewish nation's genuine uniqueness is expressed in its wholesome and perfect character, in one's being a Jew within and without, "in his tent and wherever he went." Such a Jew is loyal to his Judaic heritage and destiny; he is proud of his allegiance to Torah. And before such a Jew, all the nations will defer, as it is written, "And all the nations of the earth will see that the Name of Hashem is called upon you and they will fear you (Devorim 28:10)."

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