Proving We're Right
Chapter 3, Law 11(a)
"One who separates from the ways of the [Jewish] community, even though he
did not transgress any sins, but has separated himself from the congregation
of Israel, not fulfilling mitzvos (commandments) together with them. nor
being a part of their tribulations, nor fasting on their [declared] fast
days, but rather he goes about his way as one of the Gentiles of the land as
if he is not one of them -- [such a person] has no share in the World to Come.
"One who sins brazenly (lit., 'with a high hand') as Yehoyakim (Jehoiakim),
whether he transgresses minor or major sins, is granted no share [in the
World to Come]. Such a person is called one who 'bares his face' against the
Torah because he is brazen-faced and 'reveals his face,' not being ashamed
on account of the words of the Torah."
The Rambam is continuing his list of people so sinful they merit no share in
the World to Come, some of the very rare exceptions to an almost universal rule.
The first type of sinner the Rambam lists is a curious one -- a person who
is perfectly observant yet who entirely disassociates himself from the
Jewish community. He does no sins per se, yet he does not in the slightest
identify with his coreligionists. He neither takes part in their joys nor
their suffering. He merely goes his own way, taking no part in the lives or
affairs of his fellow Jews.
Our first reaction to such a person is that his sinfulness is in his
terrible callousness. How could any self-respecting Jew care so little about
the fate of the rest of his nation? How could he not be moved by the
suffering of his coreligionists? Doesn't the Talmud state that among the
national traits of the Jewish people are to be merciful and doers of
kindness (Yevamos 79a)? This person is lacking in one of the fundamental and
defining characteristics of the Children of Israel.
On one level, it is true that such behavior is terrible and fundamentally
anti-Torah. As I often put it, it would be difficult to come up with a more
UN-Jewish statement than "It's not my problem" -- regarding virtually all of
the suffering and injustice going on in the world today (even if practically
there is little we can do about most of the world's problems -- although we
most certainly can and should pray). Yet I'd be surprised if such an
attitude, no matter how anti-Jewish, would cause a person to lose his entire
share in the World to Come. Sinful such behavior certainly is, but I don't
know if it's worse than incest, idolatry or any other terrible sin which a
person is punished for yet most certainly receives a share in the World to
Rather, the idea behind this is deeper. When Israel was gathered at the foot
of Mount Sinai immediately before the Revelation, the Torah states, "And
Israel camped ('va'yichan') there, opposite the mountain" (Exodus 19:2). I
realize this is entirely lost in the translation, but the word "nation" is
normally referred to in the plural in Hebrew. Here however, the nation of
Israel is referred to in the singular, as if to say "he camped" rather than
"they camped." The commentator Rashi quotes the famous comment of the
Midrash: "As one man with one heart." We were referred to in the singular
because we were united as a single entity. Only then were we granted the Torah.
The Torah was never given to the individual members of the Children of
Israel. It was given to a nation. The reason for this is because the mission
we were granted was not one of being good individuals, of being nice guys
lost in a crowd. We were granted a national, cosmic mission to the world. We
were to be a "light onto the nations" (Isaiah 42:6). G-d chose us to be the
instructors and role models to the world, to show the world the truth of
G-d's existence and the beauty of His Torah. And such can only be performed
by an entire nation, by a people united in service of G-d, creating a nation
in the image of G-d. G-d's Torah could never be fulfilled by a collection of
individuals, no matter how numerous, each serving G-d on his or her own.
Because of this, a Jew who disassociates himself from Israel loses his share
in the hereafter. It is not only the sinfulness of ignoring the needs of
others. It is because a Jew who separates himself from Israel is not a part
of the Chosen Nation at all, and so loses his share in the Torah. G-d never
gave the Torah to individuals, no matter how great. He gave it to a nation,
for only as a nation can we truly fulfill G-d's bidding and mission. Only as
a nation can we be a light onto the other nations of the world. One who
rejects his share in the Jewish people can no longer be a part of this
mission, neither bearing the burden nor reaping the reward.
This point is valid on a very simple level, yet on an extremely profound one
as well. In a simple sense, there is no way a single Jew can possibly
perform all the commandments of the Torah. Some apply only to priests
(serving in the Temple, consuming sacrificial meat and tithes), some apply
only to non-priests (serving in the army, burying the dead). Some apply only
to men, some only to women (family purity). There is no possible way one Jew
can do it all. Clearly, the mitzvos (commandments) of the Torah were
intended to be observed on the national scope, not merely the individual.
Only as a nation can we truly fulfill G-d's will.
But the concept is far more profound -- and it is one the world's great
religions have grappled with over the centuries. Let's say the practitioners
of a religion "know" they are right and that the world over must embrace
their one true religion. How do they go about proselytizing the world?
Should they do it through the sword -- accept our god or die? Should they
torture, oppress and discriminate until their opponents just happen to come
over to seeing the truth of their ways? Or perhaps they should debate,
convincing the wise men of the competing faith that their religion of the
past 2000 years was all along a sham?
As should be obvious to us, none of these tactics are very good; most in
fact are hopelessly counterproductive. Unless your enemy's devotion to his
present religion is exceedingly empty and shallow (which perhaps has been
the case with many of the world's pagans), attempting to ram your beliefs
down your enemy's throat is sure to do more harm than good. At most you'll
make some terrified or opportunistic but entirely half-hearted converts who
will do little more than lower the bar of piety and devotion for the masses
Judaism takes a very different approach to this. How do we spread the faith,
cause the world to recognize the truth of a single, all-good and
all-powerful G-d? We do not force, argue, or even go about proclaiming our
credo. We simply live as G-d's nation. We demonstrate the existence of G-d
and man's divinity by creating a G-dly society, one which lives and reflects
Torah ideals and values. And such a society will be so wholesome, beautiful
and awe-inspiring, that the nations of the world will naturally recognize
and be drawn towards it. They will see G-d through His emissaries and respond.
Deuteronomy likewise states as follows. "You shall be careful and perform
[the commandments] for that is your wisdom and understanding in the eyes of
the nations who will hear all of these statutes and say, 'What a wise and
understanding people is this great nation.' For which great nation has G-d
close to it as the L-rd our G-d whenever we call to Him. And which great
nation has such righteous statutes and laws as this entire Torah which I
place before you today" (Deut. 4:6-8).
In simple reading, the above verses confirm our thesis of this week. By
observing the Torah as a nation, the nations of the world will recognize the
beauty of the L-rd's ways. There is, however, one very curious thing about
the verses. They state that the nations will see us observing our "statutes"
("chukim") and recognize our wisdom. The term used is not a generic one for
commandments but according to the Sages refers more specifically to laws
without readily-apparent reasons -- e.g., not to eat pork, wear clothes
containing mixtures of wool and linen, eat mixtures of milk and meat, shave
off one's sideburns, etc. (Talmud Yoma 67b). If so, why would the nations
see such aberrant, inexplicable behavior and conclude that we are a wise
nation close to G-d?
The answer is that when a nation is doing it *right*: when they're keeping
it and everything jells, people will see it. It's not the specific details.
It's that they see everything works, everything fits into place and comes
together. The practitioners of the religion are happy and fulfilled. They're
pious, they're spiritual -- and they're normal. They are close to G-d but at
the same time do not isolate themselves from the world. Religion turns them
into not only ascetics, but individuals who are affable, likable, and
concerned with mankind as a whole. They have built a healthy, thriving
society for all to see, neither fleeing from the rest of the world nor
compromising their values in the slightest. They're happy with their lives
and their role in the world and it shows.
And people will naturally be drawn to such a society. The details may well
be beyond them: What reasonable human being would be so presumptuous as to
expect to understand the logic behind an infinite G-d's commandments? But
the system works and clearly emanates from a source beyond the world of man.
For this reason Judaism is not a proselytizing religion. Apart from the fact
that one does not have to be Jewish to believe in G-d, "convincing" someone
that we're right rarely gets anywhere. There are few among us even
intellectually honest enough to admit when they're patently wrong -- even if
theoretically we could walk all over our opponents in debate. But man *is*
attracted to beauty. If people see truth, if they see goodness, if they see
harmony, they will respond. We don't have to run after them, provided we do
not hide from them. They will come to us. As the Prophets foretell, they
will ask to follow in our ways and for the privilege of serving us (see
e.g. the end of Zachariah 8).
This in a word is why the Torah was given only to Israel as a nation. We
have a national mission to the world -- to show them that G-d exists and
that He has values for us to uphold. And this cannot be done by individuals.
It requires a society molded in the Torah's image, one which can act as a
role model for all the nations.Thus, one who disassociates himself from the
community is not a part of Israel. Only as a community, a society united in
service of G-d, can Israel truly serve as a reflection of G-d for all
mankind to behold.
Text Copyright © 2011 by Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld and Torah.org