“You can’t imagine what joy I felt when I finally fully grasped the idea that we Jews have a mission to perform, a duty toward the rest of the world. Suddenly everything looked different, as if I were seeing the world through a lens that made everything clearer. It was like a flash of lightning in the darkness that suddenly shows you a path when just a moment ago, you didn’t know where you were going.” It was time for a little personal disclosure. My American friend and I had been going at it over the Internet question for some time, and although this wasn’t the answer, it was, in fact, the path to find the right balance.
“You know,” I continued, “it was Rav Hirsch who first ignited this feeling in me. In his commentary on the Torah, he refers again and again to our legacy and mission among the nations. I was a kollel yungerman at the time, with the world of Yiddishkeit more or less open before me. And now, all at once, Yiddishkeit had a whole new dimension. It wasn’t only about learning Torah and doing mitzvos in This World in order to get to the Next World. I had a tremendously important mission to perform in the world, here and now. That mission was no less than lesakein olam b’Malchus Shakai, to bring the nations of the world back to HaKadosh Baruch Hu.”
It was an amazing revelation. Am Yisrael’s position relative to the gentile nations had a deeper significance than I’d ever imagined. It had just hit me that I, as a Jew, was directly responsible for the entire world. There I was, learning the Torah that HaKadosh Baruch Hu gave to us, and in that Torah was a demand to fulfill a mission in this wild jungle of a world.
This demand, in fact, was a precondition before the Giving of the Torah, as evidenced by these psukim: “And now, if you will hear My voice, and keep My covenant, and be chosen to Me from all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”
The Sforno explains that the word segulah, which for lack of a better translation is usually rendered as ‘chosen,’ is in fact, the Jewish mission. “And you shall be for Me a segulah; you shall be a kingdom of priests to understand and to teach the whole human race to call upon the Name of Hashem, and to serve Him with one united effort.” And so, it seems, we were meant from the beginning to be the kohein, the priest, for all of mankind. Rav Yehudah Ashlag, a mekubal in the last century and the author of the commentary on the Zohar known as the Sulam, concurs. This is from his essay Arevus:
“That is to say, you shall be for Me the segulah, the vehicle through which will pass sparks of purification and refining of the body to all the peoples and nations of the world. Since the present situation is that the nations are not yet ready for this at all, I need one nation to begin it now, in any case. This is why the pasuk ends by saying, ‘for all the earth is Mine’; that is to say, all the peoples of the earth belong to Me, just like you, and in the end they will cling to Me…”
“Learning these perushim strengthened my new perspective. No longer was I living my life only for the sake of the eternal afterlife (although I continue to hope for this, as well); I became more focused on what could be done to improve the world around me,” I told my friend honestly. “So although we Jews might have been successful to a degree in altering the consciousness of the nations, the ultimate tikun olam has yet to be achieved. Our task is not yet complete.”
Strange as it may seem, this idea didn’t make me feel defeated, but rather energized. It is that uplifting sense of mission, that stamps your soul with the seal of greatness and imbues you with the strength to withstand any challenge or temptation.
And suddenly, when you realize how your Torah, by virtue of the very existence of the Jewish People, has become an inextricable part of life for all the nations, changing it for the better if not perfecting it, you look differently at the regression toward permissiveness that has plagued humanity for the past few generations. Until recently, Hollywood was the symbol of the age of unbridled passions; now the Internet has taken over.
We are not talking about another outbreak of unbridled passions and desires, but an open attempt by the forces of evil to drag the world back to the darkness of idolatry. Idolatry doesn’t necessarily mean bowing down to statues. Whether the rites are performed in pagan temples or via the Internet, the results are basically the same: complete licentiousness in relationships, loss of all respect for the image of G‑d as reflected in man. (And regarding an item that made recent headlines, Obama thinks he’s showing himself to be enlightened by publicly endorsing same-gender marriages; what he’s really doing is helping to bring the world back to the age that preceded the Mabul, or the decadent, unsustainable society of ancient Canaan. This tsunami of moral breakdown, rushing along under the banner of human rights and individual freedom, is capable of undermining all the values that the Jewish nation has imparted to the world over the centuries.
“So,” I told my friend, “if you recognize your mission in this world, you too might feel that you have to rise up to stop this unchecked assault on everything our people have managed to achieve. That sense of mission that fills every fiber of your being, and you want to scream out, ‘Ivri anochi!’ – and believe it or not, that primal scream can turn back the tide. Because you are strong and refuse to be enticed. Your pride in the sublime mission that’s been entrusted to you won’t allow you to surrender to that Satan -- even if has infiltrated your home through your internet provider and left you all alone in the dark of night, with nobody watching you, to face the modern satellites of pagan idolatry. Because you know that by surrendering, you are betraying the mission of Avraham Avinu which now rests upon you. And by showing loyalty to your mission at that moment of temptation, you’ll work wonders on all levels.
“Although you cannot fathom the chain reaction that your act will trigger, there will be a change in the realm of spiritual energy. As Rav Yisrael Salanter put it, if a Jew in Moscow talks during davening, a Jew in Paris will leave the fold. Our every act provides a link, however small, in that cosmic chain.”
If only our educational system would instill this sense of mission in children from an early age, if only it would turn it into a vivid experience in the heart of every pupil. If our children would suddenly feel connected to the wonderful feeling of “how lucky I am to be a Jew,” the feeling that the key to sustaining the world is in their hands, and joyfully take on the responsibility… then we would be filling young hearts with spiritual nourishment before the dangerous scourge strikes. They would have an ideal that means something, a concrete role worth living for and guarding, something that they couldn’t be swayed from with every passing breeze. The deep conviction of being chosen as G‑d’s segulah for the sake of all the nations would infuse their personalities with energy that gives rise to the sense of elevation known in Slabodka as gadlus haadam, the greatness of man. This is a subject worthy of an article of its own. No one who lives and breathes that sense of greatness is likely to fall into the traps that lie in ambush in the virtual world of the Internet.
Wishing you a joyous Chag Matan Torah.