Tuesday, November 8, 2016

A Great Nation

Rav Mordechai Greenberg

The Torah portion of Bereishit is centered around the creation of man. The portion of Noach describes the early history of mankind and the separation into "seventy" different nations. This week's Torah portion involves the creation of the nation of Yisrael.

How is this very unique nation described? The Torah portion begins with the first Divine declaration to the Patriarch Avraham, when the Holy One, Blessed be He, tells Avraham that he has been chosen to be the father of the nation. Who are the people of the nation, what makes it unique, what is its objective? "I will make you into a great nation" [Bereishit 12:2]. But it is not clear exactly how to define a "great nation." Clearly, it is not numeric – this nation will never approach the number of Chinese in the world. The answer can be found using the principle that the words of the Torah are often "lean" in one place and "rich" in another place. The other nations praise Yisrael by declaring, "These wise and understanding people are a great nation." And Moshe adds, "What other great nation is there that is so close to G-d, like our G-d, whenever we call out to Him? And which great nation has such righteous laws and decrees, like this Torah which I present to you today?" [Devarim 4:6-8].

This, then, is our definition. A great nation is a nation that is close to G-d, which therefore receives the Torah. These are the main traits of the nation of Yisrael – a close proximity to G-d and receiving the Torah from heaven. According to the Midrash, when Avraham heard this promise, he asked, "Didn't you establish seventy nations? And [G-d] replied, I will establish from you that nation about which it is written, 'what other great nation is there...'" [Bereishit Rabba 39:11].

What was the purpose of choosing Yisrael, and what should the attitude of the chosen nation be towards the other nations?

"With respect to the foreign faiths, I will tell you my opinion: The goal of the light of Yisrael is not to swallow them up and destroy them, just as we are not interested in general destruction of the world and all of its nations but rather in mending them and raising them up and removing their impurities. They will then join the source of Yisrael in a natural way, and the light will influence them." [Letters of Rav Kook, volume 1, page 145].

That is the meaning of the end of the prophecy, "and all the families of the earth will be blessed through you" [Bereishit 12:3]. Rashi writes, "there are many Aggadot, and here is the simple interpretation – a man will say to his son, 'let you be like Avraham.' Here is proof of this: 'Yisrael will bless their children through you, saying, let G-d make you like Efraim and Menasheh' [Bereishit 48:20]." In this way, every Gentile will say to his son, "I want you to be like him."

We are not trying to convince the other nations of the world to accept our opinions and our religion. "We have not been commanded to brandish swords and make war in order to call out in the name of G-d to nations which do not recognize Him." How then can Yisrael have an influence on the world? "When the name of Yisrael will become great in the world, and many nations will become aware of the beauty and the glory... without any type of resistance and without a battle, they will run to ask about the G-d of Yisrael." [Rav Kook, Ein Ayah, Berachot 58].

And this indeed is what was prophesied for the future. "Ten people from all the languages of the nations will hold on to the hem of a Jewish man, saying, we will go with you, for we heard that G-d is with you." [Zecharia 8:23]. "Let us rise up to the mountain of G-d... for Torah will emanate from Zion." [8:3].