Beit Midrash

  • Family and Society
  • The Value of the Nation of Israel
To dedicate this lesson
Translated by Hillel Fendel

Jews' Special Status: Doing Good For the World

What makes Israel special? This question was keeping me awake at night. But see the end of the article for very practical answers.


Rabbi Eliezer Melamed

Sivan 24 5781

     Israel received the Torah 3,333 years ago earlier this month, and it therefore behooves us to understand why we received it. What makes Israel special? How are we to understand the concept of segulat Yisrael (the "treasure" of Israel) and our "chosenness?"

     Just the very idea of discussing our special qualities is very difficult in this generation, in which the values of equality and the individual take center stage in the reigning ethical worldviews. Especially after the Holocaust, which taught the world the potential dangers of nationalist movements, how can we say that we are a "chosen" or "special" people? How can we claim that these qualities give us exclusive national rights over our Land?

     This question is very concrete for me. There were times when my many thoughts on this topic would not let me fall asleep at night. Here I am in the Land of Israel believing that my nation is a Divinely treasured nation – while at the same time Frenchmen are thinking the same thing about their nation or religion, and people in Japan, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere are convinced that their nations have been specially blessed by G-d. How then can I sincerely say that it is my nation that absolutely has the definitively correct and true religion?

     Of course I knew the primary answer, which is based on the Divine revelation to Israel that began at the Exodus from Egypt, continued in full force at Mt. Sinai in the presence of 600,000 adult males, and extended throughout our long history. No further proof is needed. But still I was uneasy: How could I ethically explain this to others?

The Winning Answer
     Ultimately, the "winning claim" came to me: The nation that wants more than any other to benefit all people of the world, is the true "treasured and chosen nation," and the faith that wishes more than any other to honor and cultivate all talents and fields of interest and give them all meaning and Divine value – that is the "true faith."

     And this in fact is the Identity Card of the Jewish People. This is the culture that accompanies all Jews wherever they may be, physically or spiritually; as long as they are still aware that they are Jews, they are part of this culture.

     It all began back with our very first ancestors. Avraham Avinu opened his tent to all, without being commanded to do so; he simply loved people and wanted to do good by them. Both and he and his son Yitzchak engaged in digging wells – providing blessed waters for all people and even animals.

     Yaakov Avinu, too, worked for his Uncle Lavan with total dedication, without receiving extra pay. He simply appreciated the value of work for the welfare of the world. His son Yosef, who had every reason to fall into despair and hate people, always found a way to help and gladden the people around him – to the extent that he ended up saving the Egyptian kingdom from terrible famine.

     All this without their having received the Torah – and many Jews of today follow their path, engaging in science, social activism, and more in order to contribute to the welfare of humanity. 

     Consider Moshe Rabbeinu. When he left Pharaoh's palace and saw a wicked Egyptian striking a Hebrew slave, he came to the latter's defense, even though he knew this could cost him his life. And in fact, he lost his status as an Egyptian prince and was forced to run away to Midian. And in Midian, as well, when he saw some shepherds treating Yitro's daughters unfairly, he could not stand idly by; even though it was risky, he made sure they had their fair turn at the well. He thus continued to grow in this way until he became worthy of leading Israel and receiving the Torah at Mt. Sinai. 

     Ruth the Moavite, of course, continued this tradition very markedly. A widow, she decided to leave her home country of Moav and join her mother-in-law Naomi returning to Beit Lechem. Ruth did this primarily because she felt she could not leave Naomi sadly returning home to where she had once been a very respected woman, but was now defeated, impoverished, and bereft of her husband and two sons. Ruth felt morally compelled to accompany Naomi and stand by her side, thus opening her heart to emuna in G-d. She then converted and merited to become the great ancestor of King David's dynasty.

     Our Sages in fact said that three attributes particularly characterize the Nation of Israel: They are merciful (sensitive to the sadness and troubles of others); they are shy (have great awe of Heaven); and they do kindnesses (they they wish to do good to others).

Blessing the World
     Many people do not fully realize the extent that Tikun Olam (Rectification of the World) via the Nation of Israel in the Land of Israel is the ultimate goal of Israel, based on the Torah of Israel. G-d often emphasized to Avraham that his many descendants would multiply greatly, would inherit the Land of Israel – and would be a blessing to the entire world: "All the families of the earth will be blessed for you" (B'reshit 12,3). Similar blessings were given to Yitzchak (26,4) and to Yaakov (28,3-14). 

     These blessings were accompanied by Divine promises that their descendants would inherit the Holy Land. 

     The entire mission of Israel, then, is to reveal, using Torah and its commandments, the holiness of practical life. This includes dealing with all the difficult problems of life, thus revealing the Divine values in all facets of practical life: in thought and emotion, spiritually or materially, and in agriculture, industry, commerce, science, the arts, literature, music and the like, and also in private life and family relations, as well as communal and national life.

Jewish Emuna
     All human beings have basic faith in something – for most people it is belief in G-d. For the People of Israel, this "faith" is manifest in the fact that they never settle for limited truth and goodness, but rather always strive to advance ever more, to give everything deeper moral significance. This is why Yisrael was specifically suited to receive the divine Torah, whose roots are infinite and which can always be understood with additional significance and novel ideas. 

     Our emuna includes within it the confidence that we can – via the Divine spark inherent in all and with the guidance of Torah and its commandments – advance the world in every way. This conviction is the basis for the remarkable optimism of the Jewish Nation, which, despite the terrible and unparalleled suffering it experienced throughout its history, never lost its faith in the possibility of rectification. And it is this emuna that helped sprout so many developers of new social ideas and scientific concepts within our people. 

     Now that we have returned to Eretz Yisrael, our task is to fulfill our Divine destiny as the Torah guides us. Can you just imagine how this could play out in the real world?

  •  With the recognition of the value of Torah, the Nation of Israel will strengthen its emuna and its desire to rectify and improve the world and add blessing in every facet of life.

  •  With their recognition of the value and sanctity of the family, many more Jews will marry in joy and love, will raise many children in loving and nurturing homes. The nation will then grow and thrive quantitatively and qualitatively. 

  •  In the merit of the extra willingness to contribute to the nation, in the army and in settling and building the land, Israel's security situation will continue to improve.

  •  In the merit of the value of study, many will invest more years in learning a profession appropriate for them, and their quality of work will improve.

  •  In the merit of our appreciation of the value of science, many more Jews will do extra well in their studies, and groundbreaking scientists will be the result.

  •  In the merit of the increased recognition of the value of work and contributions to the world, the workers will be happy with their jobs and will work with greater enthusiasm. 

  •  In the merit of the values of integrity and truth, we will be more honest in our business dealings. It will then be more worthwhile to do business with each other and forge business relationships for the development of society and the economy.

  •  In the merit of meaningful, frequent Torah study on Shabbatot and festival days, together with special Sabbath enjoyment with family, we will continue to strengthen all these values for ourselves, and we will merit to be more creative and productive in all our endeavors. 

  •  With our heightened appreciation for doing acts of kindness, many will work on developing new ways and means to help the handicapped and those who are hurting physically and emotionally, thus helping them become productive members of society in new and original ways. 

     We thus see that when our nation walks in the path of Torah, it automatically adds blessing and joy to the families, patience and creativity to the educational network, justice and kindness to society, meaning and value to individuals, innovation to science, inspiration for the arts, diligence and creativity to agriculture and industry, vigor to the economy, and integrity to our business dealings. 

The "Bottom Line"
     If in the merit of all the above, Israel's Gross National Product grows annually by just 3% more than the growth of the other developed nations, and if our scientific development for the benefit of mankind continues to grow at a similar pace, and we grow demographically in accordance with Torah guidance – then within just a few generations, the Jewish People in Zion will number tens of millions of people and will lead the world in its values as well as in science and economics.

     And then, the more we advance and develop, the more the Jews of the Diaspora will want to come and join our success. Even the descendants of those Jews who have been lost to us because of the suffering of the Exile will seek and find their Jewish roots and return to their nation and land. 
This will result in a great Jewish nation bringing emuna and justice to the world, paving new paths in intellectual and ethical education, and coming up with new technologies for long life in good health and improved quality of life. 

     And thus will be fulfilled the words of the Prophet: "At the end of days, the mountain of the House of G-d will be established atop the mountains… and all the nations will stream to there. And many nations will go and say, Let us go up … to the house of the G-d of Jacob and He will teach us of His ways… for from Zion will come forth Torah, and G-d's word from Jerusalem" (Isaiah 2,2-3)

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