Beit Midrash

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Translated by Hillel Fendel

Via the Internet!

The translation of the Torah into Greek was mourned by the Rabbis. How, then, should we spread the light of Torah in the world?


Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Rachamim Zeini

Tevet 11 5782
In the depths of the desire of some Jews to influence the nations and teach them the Torah way, there is undoubtedly a spark of the light of Torah that is nourished from G-d's blessing: "You will be my kingdom of priests."

But at the same time, lurking behind this desire is the same poison that has spawned generations of heresy. It is very puzzling how, after 2,000 years of suffering and attempts to escape the hostility of the Gentiles, some now seek – under the dubious guise of a Divine task – a way to connect with those same executioners.

Have we forgotten the lesson of last week's Torah reading in Parashat Vayigash? We see there that Yosef HaTzaddik is working towards precisely that blessed influence over the Gentiles that the Nation of Israel is able to bring – yet when faced with his brother Yehuda, the symbol of Jewish Nationhood, Yosef breaks down and cries. This tells us that the universalist conception cannot, as Rav Kook wrote, withstand the oversight of the "pure Israelite" approach.

In addition, in this week's portion of Vayechi, we see that Yosef's father cannot comprehend why his two grandsons are dressed in the clothing of Egyptian princes: "Who are these [boys] for you?" he asks in surprised disappointment.

We have just finished celebrating the holiday of Hanukka. When we light candles to symbolize both the miraculous military victory and the prevailing of Torah over Greek culture, it is true that we place them facing the public domain of the Gentiles (when there is no danger from these Gentiles). But we do so only in our own doorways and windows, and placed low down (within approximately 40 inches from the floor), such that they remain within the private domain of each individual. We certainly do not light them in the public square, as the Christians have always traditionally done.

Bil'am, the Gentile prophet who wished to curse Israel, found himself blessing them instead with the words, "This is a nation that dwells alone, and will not be counted among the peoples." He is also the one who said, "Let me die a death of the righteous, and let my end be like theirs." That is, he clearly sensed that though Israel remains isolated and stands alone, this would not prevent the peoples from recognizing its special universal role. Israel need not be like Efraim – about whom is written that he "mingled among the peoples" (Hoshea 7,8) – in order to fulfill its destiny and mission.

If we wish to influence the world, the best way is for us to be exactly what we are supposed to be, here in our Land - and then the light will emanate from us on its own. This is true especially nowadays, when the limitations on ties between people throughout the world have been erased totally and forever, thanks to the Internet. This phenomenon has become a bridge that connects worlds, for better and also for worse… A simple article on our Internet sites shines and lights up the entire public domain of the Gentiles even more than many Chanukah lights.

The modern "Romans" – namely, the United States – have built bridges of electronic communications for their own benefit [as R. Shimon bar Yochai said about the works of the ancient Romans – ed.]. However, we can use them effectively, on condition that we remain loyal to ourselves and our sanctity. And then, with G-d's help, we can fill the publicly-widespread utensils that are so lacking in spirituality with content of sanctity.

The true nature of Israel totally negates the initiation of any missionary activity among the nations. Whoever tries to engage in such work stumbles into precisely the same terrible mistake of 2,000 years ago. In his invocation at the dedication of Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 1925, HaRav Kook clarified that there are two directions Israel can take. One of them is an "inner" approach, one that is "totally holiness, used exclusively for the deepening of its spirit, and for Israel's inner Torah light." The other approach is a "route by which to take out and bring in – to take out Torah concepts from our private domain to the public domain of the entire world. It is precisely for this that we stand to give light to the nations."

Making this choice between the two is a "fearful" prospect, Rav Kook said. This is because most of those who followed the second path, that of taking Torah to the nations, were assimilated among them; they were washed away "in the wild waves and strong currents of the vast oceans of the Gentile armies that come upon us."

And how much more true is this for those who go out on their own towards them!

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