5769 - #13
A UNIQUE NATION
T.B. Berachot 6a asks the question: what is written in Gods tefillin? Obviously, God does not wear physical tefillin but what the gemara is questioning is: how does God relate to and praise the Jewish nation? The verses that we include in our tefillin are reflections of our relationship to, praise of and understanding of HaKadosh Baruch Hu. In a statement that God also has tefillin, we are being told that, in reflection of this relationship with God, just as our tefillin contain verses that distinguish our recognition of and connection to God, the concept of His tefillin should similarly contain pesukim, verses, that distinguish Hashems perception of and connection to us. So what are these verses that indicate the distinctiveness of the Jewish People in the eyes of God? The gemara begins its response by stating that just as our tefillin contain the verse Shema Yisrael1 -- Hear O Israel, Hashem is our God, Hashem is One Gods tefillin contains the verse Mi kamcha Yisrael2 Who is like Your nation, Israel, one nation on the earth.3 Just as our tefillin praise the singular nature of God, His tefillin praise the singular nature of the Jewish nation. But is it true that the Jewish nation is one nation on the earth, the only nation in the world? The reference to oneness in this verse must, as such, refer to uniqueness. What, though, is the uniqueness of the Jewish nation?
Rashi, Divrei Hayamim 17:21 explains that the
Jewish People are unique for they were freed from Egypt
by God Himself, to be taken by him to be His nation. God
has not acted in a similar manner with any other nation.
The problem is that, while this explanation may reflect a
unique relationship between God and the Jewish People and
that God has acted in a singular manner towards this
nation, it would seem that it would still not fully
elucidate why the Jewish nation is inherently unique,
qualitatively different, in its essence, from any other
nation. Is it solely that the Jewish nation possesses a
distinctiveness because God chose it or is it that this
nation is inherently unique and that is why God freed it,
chose it? Comparing the oneness, the uniqueness, of the
nation to the Oneness of God, would seem to support the
latter vision of the nations distinctiveness; our
uniqueness should be inherent to our very being as a
nation. That Am Yisrael was chosen by God to be
His nation may make it unique in that it is Gods
chosen nation, yet this distinction alone would still be,
it would seem, external to the inherent essence and
nature of the nation. It would be limited. Rashis
explanation of our uniqueness through the fact that God
Himself took us out of
That God acts in a certain, special manner towards a
specific nation would clearly indicate that God has a
special connection to this nation but it would still not
seem to define the inherent uniqueness of the nation.
This is only so, though, if the nation already existed
and this act by God was done to benefit this existent
nation. If, though, this act of God was not done to
benefit an existent nation but was the very act by which
this nation was created, the act would have to be
recognized as an important defining characteristic of
this nation. If this act of creating this nation was,
furthermore, unique, there would be a strong argument
that the result of this act, the created nation, would
also have to be understood to be unique. Yetziat
Mitrayim, the Exodus from
In the creation of Am Yisrael through Yetziat Mitrayim, there would actually seem to be two components to this uniqueness. One is the specific nature of the act itself; no other nation was created through the direct involvement of Hakadosh Baruch Hu. There is, though, another aspect to this uniqueness. In a more generic manner, no other nation was created through an act of this nature, with parameters that actually defy the normative understanding of what nationhood is. When someone is asked to define the nature of a nation, invariably, the first parameter that is mentioned is land. A nation defines the grouping of various individuals in a certain geographic area that wish to bind together to form a political and, perhaps, cultural entity. This was not the case with Klal Yisrael. It was formed outside of its land. Am Yisrael is truly unique, a totally unique nation in its very definition. It is a grouping of individuals who were bound together by God to form a political, cultural and religious entity that is devoted to Him.
What does this say, though, about the land? The fact that the land, unlike any other nation, is not a parameter in the defining creation of the nation does not, in any way, lessen the significance of the land to the nation. The relationship, though, is different. The Raya Kuk often pointed out that a nation is like a human being; both are components of its being. For the nation, the spirit of Am Yisrael is the Torah, the spirit that defines our thoughts and behaviours. The guf, body, is the land, Eretz Yisrael, the distinctive physical container that should hold our spirit, our neshama, just as it is a distinct body that holds the distinct neshama of every human being. Without dominion over Eretz Yisrael, the Jewish nation is like a soul without its body. The neshama needs the guf.
These words, though, further describe the absolute uniqueness of our nations. For most nations, that land which they inhabit is the dominant parameter in the development of their national spirit. Their neshama, thus, is defined by their guf; their soul is defined by their body. For Am Yisrael, the opposite is the truth. Our spirit was developed outside of the land and then taken into the land. Our neshama, thus, permeated our guf; the soul of our spirit was taken into the land, to fill the land with this spirit so that the created entity of body and soul, Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael reaches a unique dimension. The result is kedusha, an am kodesh in an eretz kodesh.
During these most trying times, we must remember this. This is our objective and this is our being. This is our uniqueness.
Rabbi Benjamin Hecht e-mail
(1) Devarim 6:4.
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