Divrei Torah

PARSHAS R'EI 5778

How do we define holiness? What makes us a holy and special people? In this week’s Parsha we read a verse “For you are a holy nation to the L-rd your G-d and G-d has chosen in you to be for Him a chosen nation . . .”. Rashi explains that the Jewish people have an inherent holiness - a legacy from our forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov. In addition to our inherent holiness, G-d chose our people and gave us an additional degree of holiness when He gave us the Torah.

This point, that we are a holy nation and chosen people has frequently come under attack. Sometimes, these attacks even come from among our own people. After all, we like to think of ourselves as a fair-minded people . . . equal rights for everybody . . . we try to help everybody. What makes us greater than everybody else? How dare we think of ourselves as different than the rest! This point that we are the “chosen people” sounds racist! 

However, if we don’t believe that we are better, we are denying G-d and His Torah. After all, every word in the Torah is from G-d. Therefore, every word is true.

In the Midrash, our Rabbis state, “G-d says to the Jewish people, “all that I have done is only for your sake.” In other words, everything that happens in the world is because of us. 

We are center stage, whether we like it or not. Since the time of Avraham, we have not been off center stage for one moment. You can find news about Israel almost every day in the newspapers, even though it does not seem to be major news. If you pay close attention to the newspapers, you will notice that similar news happens in other parts of the world, yet, for some reason those stories get buried in the middle of the paper, or maybe just get a few lines of space. However, we are on the front page or near the front, and usually more than a couple of lines.

Sometimes, we have been on center stage for good things, and sometimes it has been for not such good things. How many major empires, countries or movements have risen against us? The Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, Islam, Christianity, the Crusaders, the Germans, the Russians, the Arabs. Why always major empires or major league countries and armies? Because everything that G-d does in the world is on account of us. We are the Chosen People. We always get caught in the middle, because G-d wants us to be there. We are on center stage. But, that does not mean that we behave like everybody else. We are obligated to live a life of Kedusha – holiness – that our actions result in a Kiddush Hashem – sanctifying the name of G-d . . . that our actions show that we are a special people and we must behave accordingly. In the public perception, any religious Jew is a Talmid Chacham -  a great Torah scholar. Any negative public reaction he/she causes would be considered a Chillul Hashem – desecration of the name of G-d.

We must live a life of Kiddush Hashem. We must implant in people’s minds that Jews are people of virtue and values. In this way, people may or may not admire us. After all, we are Jewish and the world does not usually think too kindly of us, even when we have done nothing wrong and are the victims. However, more importantly, they will admire the Torah. Then we will truly fulfill this week’s verse, “You are a holy nation to G-d and G-d has chosen you above all other nations.”