Indeed, a unique nation

The Prime Minister of India represents the great number of people in the world who are in awe of Israel * In the West, Israel is repressed; but in the East, Israel is constantly taken notice of.

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Rabbi Eliezer Melamed,

מצווה. הרב מלמד
מצווה. הרב מלמד
פלאש 90

The ‘Segula‘ of Israel

Many people find it difficult to accept the fact that the Jewish people are an ‘am segula’ (a unique nation). Anti-Semites throughout the ages rose up against this. In this week’s Torah portion as well, we learn about the wicked Balaam who denied the uniqueness of Israel, until God turned his curses into blessings, and against his will, became one of the central spokesmen regarding Israel’s specialness. In our times, people devoted to an egalitarian, humanistic outlook – which is the prevailing view in academia and the media today – rebel against the uniqueness of Israel.

On the other hand, many people in the world believe that there is something wondrous about the Jewish people. They are amazed at the successes of the State of Israel despite the constant need to deal with numerous violent enemies, which recently, the world has been forced to deal with – Islamic terrorism. An impressive expression of this fondness was given this week by the visit of a friend of Israel, Indian Prime Minister Nerandra Modi. The largest democracy in the world, a country with the second largest in population (about one billion, two hundred and seventy million), which is in the process of accelerated economic growth, to the point where it is estimated that in 20 years, India’s economy will be the largest in the world. In an interview with the ‘Yisrael Hayom’ newspaper, he said: “I share the view of many of my fellow citizens about Israel. In India, Israel is perceived as a technological powerhouse, and a country that has braved many odds. Many tech-based inventions have their roots in Israeli universities and laboratories and have benefited humankind. These include articles ranging from USB flash drives to cherry tomatoes. The way you transformed yourself from being a water-deficient country to a water-surplus country; the manner in which you made your deserts bloom, are all amazing accomplishments. All these images have made a deep imprint on my mind.”

In the West, Israel’s Uniqueness is Repressed

In Western countries, however, it is difficult to speak about Jew’s special talents, because it raises up from the abyss of collective memory, the diabolical myths that Christianity had attached to Jews, and is liable to arouse strong anti-Semitism once more. Consequently, many people prefer not to even mention the term “Jews” but rather to talk about “individuals”, of whom, many of the very successful in various fields happen to be of Jewish origin. This position is greatly strengthened by the dominant leftist ideology in academia and the media, according to which there is no essential difference between nations, and the improvement of society is dependent on individuals believing in absolute equality between people, regardless of race, religion, or gender. Consequently, the talk about the uniqueness of the People of Israel infuriates a leftist, as it constitutes a barrier between humanity and ‘tikun olam’ (repair of the world).

Visitors from the East are Amazed

But people from Eastern countries, who are immune to the complexities of the past, tend to look more objectively at the Jews and the State of Israel, and many of them are amazed and interested in learning the wonderful secret inherent in the success of the Jewish people. They come to visit Israel in order to learn from our scientists what the secret of the Jewish mind is. I will attempt to describe these encounters as I have understood from conversations of Israeli professors who welcome guests from the East.

The Embarrassment of Israeli Academics

First of all, many of our academics have no answer, and are embarrassed. Being deeply rooted in Western culture and leftist perceptions, they are unable to speak about the Jewish people as an “am segula,” and find it difficult to agree that the Jewish nation has a unique essence. On the other hand, happy about the honor that has befallen them, try to find a reasonable answer that will satisfy their distinguished guests.

Thus, they reiterate to the guests the fundamentals of modern education, and explain that the secret lies in the “ability to ask questions” and “cast doubt” – to the point where Judaism is essentially depicted as a “culture of controversy.” To the guests this sounds inadequate since all of the world’s intellectuals say the same thing, and yet, the Jews are more successful. Puzzled, they wonder whether the secret is connected to the study of the Talmud over which Jews are known to split hairs, without realizing that the Jews standing before them are of the type called “chiloni” (secular), and many of them do not even know how to learn a page of ‘Gemara‘. The guests suspect that indeed, the secret of success lies in the Talmud, but that the lecturers prefer to hide it. When the guests are prominent people, such as ministers of education and science, they sometimes ask explicitly to include in the framework of their visit to Israel a trip to a yeshiva and Talmud Torah where they study “Talmud- Gemara“, in order to truly crack the secret of the Jewish mind.

Even for religious Jews it’s hard to understand. On the one hand, the study of the ‘Gemara‘ indeed develops the mind, but on the other hand, in recent generations most of the Jews who were famous as pioneers in the fields of natural and social sciences did not study the Talmud.

The Secret of Israel’s Uniqueness

In truth, the great achievements of the Jewish people are not the result of learning ‘Gemara‘, or the ability to ask and question. These are very effective tools, but the matter has to do with the Jewish trait of endlessly striving for ‘tikun olam’, to perfect the world in all spheres of life. For those who find it difficult to accept essential differences connected to the soul, Judaism can be explained as a culture that is not satisfied with the status quo, and constantly encourages thinking and creativity for improvement. Therefore, even a Jew whose family did not observe the mitzvot and did not study Talmud, as long as this Jewish culture is alive in his family, he is stimulated from childhood to believe that more can be achieved in all areas. This striving is also expressed in internal unrest and in various psychological disorders (obsessions, anxieties, insomnia) in which Jews excel. Occasionally this striving causes Jews to reject and act brazenly towards sacred ideals that most people believe in, and in the extreme, can evidence itself in revolutionism and constant subversion. This is one of the motives for anti-Semitism. Anyone whose worldview permits him to accept essential differences, realizes that all this stems from the unique soul that God gave to Israel – this is the ‘segula of Israel’.

The leftist worldview stems from the concept of ‘achdut‘ (unity), which seeks to abolish the frameworks that divide people, and remove the external barriers that separate between the ideal and reality. Therefore, it possesses an ideal Jewish element, but it conflicts with the principle of freedom, which imparts unique value to the special distinctiveness of each person, nation, and gender.

Endless Striving for Kindness and Truth

When our forefather Avraham invited guests to his home, he did not do it because he was commanded, or because he hoped for a nice reward, but because that is what he wanted most of all. Thus, we find our forefathers Avraham and Yitzchak engaged in the digging of wells, Yaacov rolled the stone over the top of the well, because from the well water would be drawn for all. Our forefather Yaakov also worked diligently and faithfully in grazing the sheep, even when it was not for his own needs and profits – in order to add prosperity to the world through food, and woolen clothing. And Yosef the Tzaddik(righteous), although he could have been bitter for being sold into slavery, did not lose his vitality, and wherever he went, tried to improve the situation of those around him, up until he saved the Egyptian kingdom from terrible hunger. Similarly, today’s scientists and entrepreneurs, in their actions for the welfare of humanity, are idealists following in the path of the forefathers.

When Moshe left Pharaoh’s palace and saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew man, even though he realized he was endangering his life, he beat the Egyptian, and saved the slave. As a result, he forfeited his status as prince of Egypt, and was forced to flee to Midian. There too, upon seeing the daughters of Jethro being discriminated against, he could not stand idly by, and risking a confrontation with the local shepherds, fought alone for their right to receive their deserved turn in-line to water their flock from the well.

When Ruth the Moabite decided to join her mother-in-law Naomi on her way back to Bethlehem in the Judean Hills, it was because she could not leave her alone in her terrible sorrow. As a result, her heart was opened to faith in God, converted to Judaism, and became the mother of the kingdom of the House of David.

In a similar manner, our Sages said that three attributes characterize the Jewish people: 1) they are merciful, 2) benevolent, and 3) bashful, in the sense of being God-fearing (Yevamot 79a). If someone does not exhibit these attributes, his Judaism is questionable.

The Foundation of Optimism: ‘Emunah

The endless striving for unity, kindness and truth – which are the perfection (‘tikun‘) and advancement of the world – is connected to belief in God, for Israel are ‘ma’aminim b’nei ma’aminim’ (believers, the children of believers) (Shabbat 97a). True, all human beings have the inherent attribute of ‘emunah’ (faith), however, there was never a nation in the world where so many of its offspring devoted their talents and lives to their belief. This faith is expressed in the fact that Jews are never satisfied with limited truth and good, but always strive to advance towards a more complete understanding. Consequently, the People of Israel were suited to accept the Divine Torah rooted in ‘ein sof’ (infinity) and revealed to the world, in which one can always gain further understanding and ideas, endlessly.

This faith is also a belief that one can perfect and elevate reality to a higher level, since everything possesses a Divine spark which, if revealed, can advance the world. To continue advancing, idolatry must also be renounced, including all the conformities that limit and interfere with the continued pursuit to correct and improve the world.

This faith is the basis for the wonderful optimism of Jews – despite there never having been a people who suffered as much in history, Jews never lost their faith in the possibility of ‘tikun‘. By virtue of this faith, the nation of Israel produced so many innovators of social and scientific ideas, revolutionaries, and entrepreneurs.

The Connection between Faith and its Realization

Unfortunately, in our current situation a crisis exists between faith and Torah study – which are the wellsprings of great ideals – and the realization of the vision of ‘tikun olam’ by members of science and society, and consequently, the vision of Judaism is revealed only partially, and in a fragmented manner. The more aware we become of our special role, the easier it will be to mend the schisms; belief in Hashem, the God of Israel, will be revealed in all spheres of life; the light of Torah will illuminate, guide, and enhance all fields of ethics, science, society, and the economy, and miracles and nature will unite for the glory of the People of Israel, the Land of Israel, and all humanity.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other interesting, informative, and thought-provoking articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found at: http://en.yhb.org.il/