Beit Midrash

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23. Why Was Torah Given to Israel Alone?

God willed that creation consist of varying levels. In this manner the world is capable of attaining perfection. Therefore, humankind itself consists of levels: there is the Chosen People, and there are other people who do not belong to this group.


Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed

Rabbi Judah HaLevi repeatedly stresses the point that the only way possible to worship God is through acting in accordance with the guidelines laid down by God Himself, for man is incapable of arriving at the correct and desired manner of worship through his own intellect. God's thoughts are beyond man's comprehension. We are unable to discover what God wants of us by resorting to human reason. Only by following God's commandments are we able to worship Him properly. Therefore, God gave us the Torah, which contains comprehensive instruction as to how to fulfill His will. In it one finds detailed and exact instruction down to the smallest of details – like, for example, the blueprint of the Sanctuary, the service performed therein, those designated to perform it, and at what times.

The Khazar king accepts this principle, for he arrived at such a conclusion himself. It was this very conviction which initiated his search for the true faith. He arrived at the conclusion that, on his own, man is incapable of discovering what God wants of him. The king reasoned that he must search out somebody to whom God had revealed Himself, somebody who knows God's desire. This is what brought him into contact with the Rabbi.

Still, a certain question continued to bother the king: why only Israel? Why should God not desire to rectify all of His creatures?

The Rabbi responds to this question in the following manner: "Would it not have been better for all living creatures to be sentient humans? Rather, God willed that creation consist of varying levels. In this manner the world attains perfection. Therefore, even humankind consists of levels: there is the Chosen People, and there are others who do not belong to this group. There is a 'heart' and there is an 'outer shell.' The nation of Israel is distinct from the rest of humankind in that it possesses Divine traits, traits which render it a kind of separate species, and the entire people of Israel is endowed with a special genius for prophecy.

"All aspired toward prophecy," continued the Rabbi, "and many actually achieved it. Even those who did not attain prophecy could still be at near-prophetic levels due to their desirable acts, their holiness and purity, and their attachment to other prophets.

"You should know that one who comes in contact with a prophet will experience a spiritual renewal when he hears the prophet's Divine words. It is then that the individual departs from the normal level of mankind due to the soul's aspiration toward these angelic levels and its attachment to humility and purity. Man on such a level attains a virtual World to Come, for the entire greatness of the the afterlife lies in the fact that the soul separates from its physical senses and enjoys an elevated Divine realm. The soul then benefits from seeing and hearing this realm's angelic light and Divine speech. This type of soul will be free from death once its physical vestiges have passed away. It will continue to be attached to its sublime source. When you find a set of teachings that contains wisdom and practices that bring the individual to such a lofty state (when these teachings are utilized in the designated place – i.e., the Land of Israel – and performed using the designated methods), then this set of teachings will undoubtedly also preserve the soul after the body has passed away."

In this, then, lies the preeminence of the Jewish people. They are God's own people, a prophetic people which has a portion in the World to Come.


Postscript: In the above article, some of what appears to be the dialog of Rabbi Judah Halevi's The Kuzari has in fact been added by Rabbi Melamed for purposes of clarity and explication.
Much of the translation of the Kuzari in the above article is taken from N. Daniel Korobkin's translation of The Kuzari (Jason Aaronson Inc.).

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