Our courage and strength to be different – to become the rainbow people that can serve as a universal model – is rooted in the legacy of our forefathers and foremothers. A source for this idea is found in the Torah portion of this Shabbos, which describes how, Hashem, the Compassionate One, caused the Gentile Prophet, Balaam, to bless our people when we were camping in the wilderness on our way to the Promised Land. The Torah states, “Hashem put an utterance in Balaam’s mouth” (Numbers 23:5), and the following is an excerpt from his prophetic words regarding the destiny of Yisrael – Israel:
“I see it from the summit of the rocks, and from the hills do I view it; this is a people that will dwell apart and not be reckoned among the nations.” (Numbers 23:9).
He viewed us from “the summit of the rocks and from the hills.” According to Midrash Tanchuma, the “rocks” are a metaphor for our Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), and the “hills” are a metaphor for our Matriarchs (Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah). Based on the Midrash Tanchuma, Rashi explains that Balaam was looking at their roots – the source of their strength.
Yes, we have a Divine mandate to “dwell apart” in order to develop an alternative society that can serve an ethical and spiritual model of Torah – the Divine Path. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch elaborates on this idea in his classical work “The Nineteen Letters” – an explanation of our path which was written in the form of letters to a young Jewish seeker. Rabbi Hirsch writes:
“Torah, the fulfillment of the Divine Will, constitutes the foundation, basis and goal of this people. Its nationhood is therefore not tied to transitory things or dependent on anything of a passing nature; it is as eternal and everlasting as spirit and soul and the Word of the Eternal…Therefore, a land, prosperity and institutions of statehood were to be put at Yisrael’s disposal not as goals in themselves, but as means for the fulfillment of Torah. Accordingly, they all were granted to Yisrael on one – and only one – condition: that it would indeed fulfill the Torah. Blessed with all these gifts, this people had to remain separate from the nations, lest it learn from them to consider these blessings an end in themselves.” (Letter Eight)
This separation is to lead us to a universal goal. As Rabbi Hirsch explains to his young correspondent:
“You wrote that the Torah isolates us. True! If it did not, Yisrael would long since have lost its identity. Look what struggles are required to preserve the purity of Yisrael’s spirit within our people despite this isolation! But does this spell enmity? Or pride? As if God were not the Lord of all creatures, all human beings? An unfortunate misinterpretation indeed! After all, Yisrael has no other task than to acknowledge as its God the One Who calls and educates all human beings to His service, and to make Him known as such through its destiny and way of life!” (Letter Fifteen, p. 198)
As we discussed previously, our tradition reveals that we are a “rainbow” people that incorporates the seventy diverse traits within the universe so that we can serve as a source of inspiration and blessing for the seventy primary nations of the earth. We also cited the following Midrash which gives us a deeper understanding of our rainbow role:
The Holy One, Blessed be He, has seventy names; Israel has seventy names; the Torah has seventy names; Jerusalem has seventy names (Numbers Rabbah 14:12).
May we therefore merit to soon experience the great “Rainbow Gathering” in Jerusalem, the city of seventy names. This gathering will take place when Yisrael, the people of seventy names, will inspire the seventy nations to serve the Holy One, Who has seventy names, through fulfilling the universal path within the Torah – the Divine Teaching with seventy names. A reference to this universal gathering appears in the following prophecy which describes the pilgrimage of the nations to the Temple of Hashem – the Compassionate One – in Jerusalem:
“It will happen in the end of days: The mountain of the Temple of Hashem will be firmly established as the head of the mountains, and it will be exalted above the hills, and all the nations will stream to it…For from Zion will go forth Torah, and the word of Hashem from Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 2: 2,3)
Have a Good and Sweet Shabbos,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen