Torah Fax    

Friday - Shabbat, July 30 - 31

Torah reading: Eikev (Deuteronomy 7:12 - 11:25)  
Candle Lighting Time 7:55 PM
Shabbat ends 8:59 PM 

Pirkei Avot Chapter 5

Sterile Blessings?

Our Parshah contains the blessing of “Baruch Tih’ye MiKol Ha’Amim - You will be blessed above all nations. There will not be male or female barren among you or among your cattle.”

According to the Talmud the translation of this verse is: “You will be blessed by the nations.” From this verse the Jerusalem Talmud states we derive that when a non-Jew blesses a Jew we should answer, “Amen!”

Commentators have sought to understand the connection between the two apparently disparate themes mentioned in this verse: a) to be blessed above or by the nations and b) not being sterile.

On a simple level one can explain the connection the following way:

The Jewish nation was always a nation that lived among other nations. This is especially true since the days we were exiled to the four corners of the earth by the romans afrter the destruction of the Second Temple. But even when we lived in the Land of Israel—in the days of King Solomon—there was always interaction between Israel and the other nations.

If life itself is a balancing act, then the way we live amongst and interact with other nations is certainly a tightrope act. Put simply: The perennial dilemma for the Jewish people—who are Biblically characterized as the “smallest of all the nations”—is how do we maintain a healthy relationship with these nations and not lose out our own identity? In other words, how do we enjoy the benefits and blessings that we receive from other nations and not lose our ability to transmit our Jewish identity to our progeny.

And because it is such a daunting challenge, which most people would have maintained is impossible to achieve, the Torah therefore declares: “You will be blessed by all the nations.” You will live amongst the other nations and be subjected to the pressures of assimilation. And yet, despite your association with them, there will not be any barren people among you. You will succeed in reproducing a new generation of Jews for whom Judaism is vibrant.

The follow up question is how does one accomplish this? How can we live, as a minority, amongst foreign cultures and not be heavily influenced by them? How can a Jew be secure that his or her Jewish identity will be bequeathed to the next generation? And if there is a way, where does the Torah suggest this approach?

The answer lies in the very way the Torah formulates the dilemma: “You will be blessed by all the nations.”

Why do the nations of the world bless the Jewish people? We are blessed by them because they see that we are proud of who we are. Jews are respected when we do not hide our Jewish-ness, Moreover, we are loved and blessed by others when we become a light to the nations. 

To be sure, being a light to the nations does not mean—and it never did despite the assertion of some historians to the contrary—that we ought to seek to convert others to Judaism. Rather it means that our own commitment to the Torah and its ideals radiates such light that it inspires all of humanity to be better people. 

More specifically it refers to the Jewish obligation—as Maimonides puts it—to influence all of humankind to follow the universal religion—the Seven Noahide commandments—that forms the bedrock of a G‑d driven civilized world. These seven commandments (not to: worship idols, blaspheme G‑d, murder, rob, commit sexual crimes, eat an animal without killing it and the obligation to establishing a judiciary) were given originally to Noah to pass on to his progeny. These commandments were subsequently reiterated by G‑d at Sinai, when He gave the Torah and the 613 commandments to the Jewish people. When a human being who is not Jewish follows these seven commandments because they were given by G‑d at Sinai, he or she becomes part of G‑d’s covenant He made with the Jewish people at Sinai, and thereby forms an eternal bond with G‑d. One does not have to convert to Judaism to enjoy a relationship with G‑d and to receive reward in the world-to-come. 

Theories about the phenomenon of anti-Semitism abound. And there are certainly many factors that contribute to it. One view that “explains” certain forms of anti-Semitism derives from the impression of the anti-Semite that the Jewish people are out of form when they fail to be the purveyors of light to the rest of the world. Instead, the Jews have tried to prove to the nations that they are a no different from them. Jews will bask in the light of the nations, learning from their cultures, and even adopting their life styles as well as their thought processes, instead of bringing some of the light of Judaism to the nations. We receive from the nations, but we forget about our role as those who must shine the light of G‑d and Torah to the entire world. On a conscious level, the anti-Semite may see this attitude as pandering or even trespassing on his turf. On a sub-conscious level the anti-Semite is angry that he or she has been cheated out of the light that the Jew was entrusted with and had the responsibility to share with the rest of the world. 

When Jews do what they are obligated to do—serve as beacons of light, by proudly observing their commandments and living their lives with integrity—they generally will evoke feelings of respect and admiration from the nations of the world, except, of course, from the hard-core haters.

This then may be the intent of the verse “You shall be blessed by all the nations.” G‑d in effect tells us that when the nations bless the Jews because of what they feel they receive from us, we will not only avoid being influenced negatively by our association with them, but, on the contrary, we will influence them for the good and thereby reinforce our own Jewish life. We will then be able to pass it on to the next generation, ad infinitum.

As we have mentioned many times, we are situated on the threshold of the Messianic Age. In these last days of exile—when we are “guests” in the midst of other nations—our greatest challenge is to redefine our relationship with the other nations of the world. And this is in fact what the world is waiting for. Instead of becoming sponges to pick up every nuance of popular culture we ought to become steeped in our own Torah “culture” and use it to benefit the world. This, after all, is the very reason we exist as a people and are situated in their midst. Our role now is not simply to reverse the process of assimilation, but to give off some of our light so that all the nations will bask in it and bless us for it.

This explains why Maimonides included the laws of the seven Noahide commandments right before he discusses the laws concerning the Moshiach. One of the preparations for Moshiach and the final Redemption is to serve as beacons of light to the nations. Moshiach will complete the process of bringing light to the nations and we will then see the fulfillment of the Biblical prophecy that all the nations of the world will be united as one in their service of G‑d.

Moshiach Matters 

Whenever Jews gather together, they begin by wishing each other "Shalom," "peace," i.e., that each individual Jew, every Jewish family, and the entire Jewish people enjoy increased peace. Increasing peace is also a means of preparing the world for the Era of the Redemption, when in the imminent future the entire Jewish people will leave exile and proceed to our Holy Land. (The Rebbe, 26 Kislev, 5752 - 1991)

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