30 August 2015

"Israel and The Nations" - Pt 1

16 Elul 5775

The equality of all mankind is not a Jewish idea. It is a Greek/Roman/Western-democratic idea that Jews have assimilated over time. Humanity does not all exist on one level. Let's look at how Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, ztz"l explains it with commentary provided by Torah.org's Rabbi Yaakov Feldman...
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Derech Hashem, Part II, Chapter 4 - Israel and the Nations, Paragraph 1


[1] One of the deepest concepts of God’s Providence involves Israel and the other nations.  With regard to their basic human characteristics, the two appear exactly alike.  From the Torah’s viewpoint, however, the two are completely different, and are treated as if they belonged to completely different species.

We will now delve into this concept, explaining in which way the two are alike, as well as in which way they are different.


Torah.org - Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

What sets us Jews apart from other people? We'll explore that for a while now. For while last chapter dwelt on how G-d Interfaces with us individually, this one will focus in on how G-d interfaces with the Jewish Nation as a whole.

When Shakespeare's most famous Jewish character, Shylock, protested anti-Jewish discrimination by intoning, "Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions?" ("Merchant of Venus" Act 3, Scene 1) his point was that we Jews are just like other people in many, many ways. And that we're not to be feared or loathed, and forever taken as "the other". But in a certain sense, Shylock was off-the-mark. (After all, he was uttering Shakespeare's words and thus voicing a fine and humanistic Non-Jew's indictment against anti-Semitism, and wasn't speaking about us in the sense we'll be dwelling upon.)


For despite all appearances -- despite the fact that most of us would be hard pressed to pick a Jew out in a crowd with assurity (unless one was wearing the telltale outward signs of one) -- we Jews are different. Somehow, fold after fold, layer after layer of physical, emotional, and social likeness to others gives way to a different breed of person.


For like every other nation, the Jewish Nation has its unique national genius which sets us apart from the others. The point is though that our's touches on a very special realm: the ability to draw close to G-d. We Jews can draw close to G-d as no one else can. The fact that we might be attractive, intelligent, gifted, and the like isn't what sets us apart. It's that all-important potential to draw close to G-d.


Many of us -- Jew and Non-Jew -- will squirm at the idea and grow ill at ease, since it's a decidedly unmodern one that's awash in political incorrectness. But be that as it may, the notion isn't our own; it's stated outright in the Torah.


We'll thus spend time exploring the implications of our distinctiveness, including the ideas that every other nation could have wound up being "the Jewish Nation" had things worked out differently in antiquity; that Abraham alone deserved to be the root of the Jewish Nation, and no one else; that other nations had been given a "second chance" later on, but didn't take advantage of it; that other nations thus function differently on a cosmic level; and more.


At bottom there's no reason to grow arrogant at our standing as a nation. It has nothing to do with us, per se, and everything to do with our G-d-given task in this world.



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Derech Hashem, Part II, Chapter 4 - Israel and the Nations, Paragraph 2


[2] Before Adam sinned, he was on a much higher level than contemporary man, as discussed earlier (1:3:6).  In that state, man was on a very lofty level, fit for a high degree of eternal excellence.  If he had not sinned, man would have simply been able to elevate and perfect himself, step by step.

He would have then given birth to future generations while still in that state of excellence. Their number would be accurately determined by God’s wisdom, depending on how those enjoying His good should best be perfected.  All these future generations would have then shared this good with Adam.

God had also determined and decreed that all these generations that would have been born of Adam should exist on various determined levels.  Some generations would thus be primary, while others would be secondary, like roots and branches.  Later generations would stem from the earlier ones [and share their characteristics], like branches stemming from a tree.  The number of trees and branches, however, was determined from the very beginning with the utmost precision.

When Adam sinned, he fell from his original high level, and brought upon himself a great degree of darkness and insensitivity, as discussed earlier.  Mankind in general also fell from its original height  and remained on a degraded  level where it was not at all worthy of the eternal high degree of excellence originally destined for it.

Man could thus anticipate only a very much lower level, and it was in this state that children were born into the world.  They were therefore all born into this degraded state. 

Nevertheless, even in the time of his downfall, the elevated aspect that existed in man as a result of his true root was not completely extinguished.  Adam was therefore not cast aside completely, and could still return to the higher level.  [But now he would be functioning under an important disadvantage, since] he was actually on a lower plane [which merely had] the potential aspect of the higher level.

God gave Adam’s descendants a free choice at that time to strengthen themselves and strive to elevate themselves from this lower state and regain the higher level.

The Highest Wisdom, however, determined the length of time best suited for such an effort, and accordingly set a time limit for these generations.  In a way this is very much like the time limit now given to each individual.  Every individual has a limited lifetime and it is during this period of time that he must attain both perfection and his level in the Community of the Future World, as discussed earlier.  The reason in both these cases is that everything that involved effort must be limited in time.  


Torah.org - Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

We'll spend some time now retracing the history of the human spirit in order to understand G-d's plans for the Jewish Nation.

As we indicated earlier on, before they ate from the Tree of Knowledge Adam and Eve were on an unfathomably higher spiritual level than we are. And had they not sinned, they would have been able to grow greater and greater yet in spirit. We learn now that they were to have borne a specific number of descendants who were then to enjoy that same level of being.

There was also to have been a certain order and layout to the lot of them. A certain number of Adam and Eve's early descendants were to have served as "root souls" and to have been of primary importance, while the others were to have served as the latters' "offshoots" and to have been as deeply influenced and defined by their "roots" as fruit-trees are by theirs.

But all that went by the waysides when Adam and Eve ate from the Tree and diminished their -- and their descendants' -- beings (as we also discussed). For those early descendants no longer deserved the abiding glory that was originally due them, and they could no longer people the world with others on a high spiritual state.

That having been said, it's also important to point out that the original "jot" of glory within them was never blotted out, in fact. It always abided in Adam and Eve's as well as their descendants' beings. And so none of them were utterly rejected. But humanity's lower level was still and all not to be denied.

G-d did give those early descendants the ability to consciously choose to garner their inner resources, and to thus strive to elevate their beings to the highest reaches. But there was to have been a time limit (much like the one given each one of us to reach our own spiritual potential). Simply because it's the way of this world that things that call for effort are to be achieved by a certain point, and no later.

PART 2