Mashiach and Jewish Leadership: Part 18 – Israel as a “Light Unto the Nations”

Being inspired when performing a mitzvah is an ideal not only for the future, but a goal which should be pursued on a daily basis. One of the original goals of the leaders of the Chassidic movement was to re-instill in the Jewish People a joyous and deeply spiritual attitude towards each and every mitzvah. Performing mitzvot by rote is like a slave who, motivated by fear of punishment, experiences no pleasure in his actions. At times, even a slave who elevates himself to being a faithful servant can experience the pleasure of his master, as if in his master’s mind. When motivated by love, the fulfillment of a mitzvah is elevated even more, to that of a son who himself experiences the pleasure inherent in every mitzvah. The highest level is when the aspects of son and faithful servant are unified, giving boundless pleasure to the individual as well as G-d, the true Master of the universe. Though fulfillment of a mitzvah is an emotional experience, it is augmented and enriched by proper, intellectual meditation and intent preceding it. Each mitzvah is intended to connect us directly to G-d, infusing both body and soul with tremendous life force and pleasure. The purpose of all the mitzvot is identical with the goal of a Jewish leader, to uplift the physical and unite it with the spiritual. Acting by rote drains away all the viable potential, leaving only an empty shell.

For Israel to be a “light unto the nations” it has to channel Torah as the source of G-d’s light in the world. Serving G-d by rote not only does not inspire, it drives people to look for spirituality from sources other than Torah. This is especially true today within Jewish communities everywhere. First and foremost, Jews have to inspire other Jews to see the beauty and relevance of Torah today. Only then can we expect other nations to accept with love the Mashiach’s universal message.

Due to historical circumstance, Jews for the last two thousand years were not in a position to openly teach Torah or the seven mitzvot to the nations. The tremendous impact the Jewish People have had on all aspects of religion, culture and society has been more a result of osmosis than a conscious decision. Only now, with a restored national home and acceptance as equal citizens in most countries, is there an atmosphere where Jews can consciously begin to choose to fulfill a true leadership role. A Jewish leader today in the purest sense must inspire the whole Jewish People to be “a nation of priests [leaders] and a holy people.” Performing mitzvot in an inspired fashion, shows that Torah is not merely a body of rules to live by lest people “swallow each other up,” but a powerful spiritual channel to communicate directly with G-d and understand His Will on both a personal and universal level.

One of the “campaigns” of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, was that the time was now ripe for the seven mitzvotto be taught openly. As a result, the American Congress passed the bill proclaiming the universal relevance of the Seven Mitzvot.

The Ba’al Shem Tov teaches that all Divine service unfolds in a three stage process of “submission,” “separation” and “sweetening.” This applies as well to the basic relationship between Israel and the nations. The initial stage of “submission” entails the Jewish People accepting the “yoke of Torah” and humbly assuming upon themselves the responsibility of being a “light unto the nations,” while the nations accept the universal message of Torah, specifically the seven mitzvot that apply to them.

The next stage is highly paradoxical, for in order to realize the final, consummate stage of “sweetening”?the unity of mankind in recognition and service of G-d?an intermediate level of “separation” is needed. Throughout history the Jewish People have maintained a separate identity, either by choice or by default. Every attempt to assimilate among the nations has brought disaster in its wake as any student of Jewish history knows.

The heathen prophet Bilaam correctly prophesied that Israel would be “…a nation that dwells in solitude and not reckoned among the nations.” The state of separateness has been a source of blessing and curse: a blessing in that only in this way has Israel been able to maintain its unique, essential nature and thereby greatly influence the world, albeit in a manner not always immediately recognizable. It has been a curse in that it has prevented the nations from fulfilling their true mission of drawing close to Israel and Torah. The stage of “separation,” though paradoxical, is indispensable to the overall unfolding of G-d’s ultimate plan for humanity.

Even after the nations recognize the source of light emanating from the Jewish People, there will still need to be a separation. At that point though, the sense of separateness actually motivates a non-Jew to either want to convert or to draw closer by adopting the sevenmitzvot. What now occurs to a relatively small percentage of people will one day manifest itself universally. This is the “sweetening” and unity Mashiach will reveal to the whole world.


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