"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 Jehoiakim (Yehoyakim),
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."
We are continuing to cover the Rambam's very short list of individuals who
receive no share in the World to Come. In the last class we discussed the
evil of one who separates himself from the community. As we explained, the
sinfulness of such a person is not primarily in disassociating himself from
the rest of Israel and being oblivious to their needs, bad as that is.
Rather, the idea is that G-d granted the Torah only to Israel as a nation.
We have a national mission to the world: to create a just and holy society
which demonstrates G-d's existence to mankind. Only as part of that
community were we chosen at all. One who separates himself -- even if
personally he observes all the commandments -- is not a part of the nation
and is granted no share in its reward.
There are a few further pertinent points related to the past class's
discussion. Throughout most of our history, we have been exiled from our
land and have had only very limited opportunity to create such a G-dly
society for man to see. The Torah predicts that in exile G-d would "scatter"
us among the nations (Leviticus 26:33). We will likewise be gathered from
the "four corners of the earth" (Isaiah 11:12). Israel has generally been
spread out fairly thin within its host societies. (Some of the much larger
Jewish communities we see today are a much more recent phenomenon (at least
in modern Jewish history). They are the result of a gathering together of
vast exiles -- both to America and to Israel.) In fact, the Talmud states
that one of the purposes of Israel's exile is specifically to "fan out"
among the Gentiles, so that worthy converts be added to their ranks
As a result, throughout the years our mission has been much less to build a
utopian society for the Gentiles to behold, and more to hold our own among
them, generally taking care to isolate ourselves from their influence as
much as possible. The time we will become a "light unto the nations" will
primarily be after the Messiah arrives, when Israel will be ascendant and
independent, and able to create a society on its own terms.
It's interesting to note that one of the motives religious Jews have had for
settling the Land of Israel in recent centuries was in order to slowly begin
building such a utopian society, thereby hastening the Messianic Age.
Further back in Jewish history and throughout the ages, there have always
been instances of pious Jews who emigrated from the Diaspora to the Holy
Land. However, as I once heard Rabbi
Berel Wein put it, such people were generally coming to die. They were
typically aging Jews determined to spend their final years in the elevated
seclusion of the Land. They were withdrawing from society at large, to spend
their most spiritual years in true and uninterrupted communion with their
In the early 19th century, however, students of the Vilna Gaon (R. Eliyahu
ben Shlomo, widely regarded as the leader of 18th century Lithuanian Jewry)
on their late teacher's behest, began the process of emigrating and building
communities in the Land of Israel. They did not come to live and die in holy
seclusion. They came as young families, prepared to settle and build the
Land and the economy. It was a near-impossible task, populating a backwards,
dangerous and economically depressed region. It required a lot of work,
sweat, deprivation, and bribery. Nevertheless, those heroic pioneers began
the slow but inexorable process of building up the Land of Israel into both
a religious and economically viable country which must ultimately become a
light unto the nations.
This admittedly is a rather sketchy outline of a very complex period of
history. There were also Chassidic Rebbes and students who began a similar
process. And later that century secular Zionists too came to develop the
Land. And then there are and have always been religious Jews of the opinion
that the Messiah cannot be hastened through such grass-root means. Only G-d
can bring about the redemption -- at least in a military or political sense.
And on top of that, in the same period originated a religious-Zionist
movement, of Jews who attempted to combine Torah observance with the drive
to create a Jewish homeland.
Not being a historian, I am not attempting to describe how the development
of the Land of Israel progressed, nor the good, bad and indifferent
processes which shaped its growth. But there is an interesting moral in all
of this. The Children of Israel in the Land of Israel are ultimately to
become a light onto the nations of the world. Today we are blessed with a
country which -- whether it so chooses or not -- to a small extent does
assume such a role in the eyes of the world. And with this we can understand
a phenomenon which for religious Jews is one of the most frustrating and
exasperating of the modern world.
We are all well aware of the fact that the State of Israel is routinely a
victim of some of the worst press coverage known to man. Everything Israel
does is portrayed in a negative light. Israel is invariably depicted as the
aggressor (for retaliating, that is -- or simply because it has the audacity
to exist), the big bully Goliath tormenting the helpless, pathetic
Palestinian David. Its every little act -- building a single house on
"occupied territory" -- bears intense international scrutiny and often a UN
condemnation. As usual, the world seems to have nothing better to do than
condemn Israel -- actually one of the few things almost the entire world can
By contrast, of course, Muslims and especially Arabs can do virtually no
wrong. Almost as a misbehaving child, gross acts of violence, utter
disregard for human rights, can all be blamed on an array of outside causes
(usually including Israel and the US) not really their own doing. While
Israel is blamed for all the ills of the Middle East, the excesses of the
Arabs themselves are simply ignored or explained away.
For us believing Jews, such a phenomenon is painful and frustrating beyond
words. Why not just be fair about us for Heaven's sake?! State the facts
without contorting them!
But there is a very basic reason for this. The world does not have such
strong anti-Israel feelings simply because of dual standards -- because they
instinctively expect more from us compassionate Jews. Nor does their hatred
stem from straight-out antisemitism (at least as a root cause).
Rather, the idea behind it is deeper. The nation of Israel is trying to --
and to a small extent is -- building a better society. It is endeavoring to
create a productive, democratic country, one which displays unusual
compassion towards both its enemies and the world at large. We certainly
have a long way to go -- in particular until this nation becomes much more
universally observant of G-d's Torah. But we have certainly made a start.
Yet, to the extent that we represent G-d's values today, the nations of the
world today simply cannot take it. If we really are becoming a light unto
the nations, they will have to see it -- the beauty will be too striking to
ignore -- and recognize the message of the Torah. But if the Torah is right,
then they and all they stand for are wrong. They will have to admit the
fallacy of their ways. And the world is not ready for this. Thus, as their
only alternative, the world does everything in its power to deny Israel's
greatness -- to see all we do and all we stand for in a negative light. We
*must* be the aggressor, the bad guy, the terrorist, the Nazi. For if the
world stops for a moment to see us objectively, they will be forced to at
last recognize the truth of G-d.
This of course will all change when the Messiah arrives and the truth
becomes patently clear. At that much longed-for point in history, G-d's
reality will become clear to all. There will no longer be anything holding
the nations back, and they will naturally be drawn towards Israel. As the
Prophets foretell, they will beg to serve us. But until that era dawns the
nations will go to every extent to block out Israel's message to the world.
And we can scream the facts all we want, but it will make little difference.
For the world will continue to twist itself into a pretzel to deny the
beauty of a nation already like none other.
Before closing, I would like to briefly discuss the second half of the
Rambam. The Rambam states that one who sins brazenly such as Jehoiakim too
receives no share in the World to Come. King Jehoiakim (Heb.: Yehoyakim) was
one of the last kings of Judah (see II Kings 24). Both Scripture and the
Talmud describe him as a thoroughly wicked man who contributed mightily to
the nation's decline, culminating shortly after with their exile at the
hands of the Babylonians.
By way of clarification, earlier the Rambam listed the "apostate" (meshumad)
as one who receives no share in the World to Come. One of the definitions of
an apostate was one who rejects a single prohibition of the Torah, and does
so out of spite. The sin listed here is similar in attitude. However,
whereas the apostate completely rejects a single Torah law, acting as if it
does not exist, the brazen sinner is not so selective. He does not single
out any specific law to reject. He rather sins here and there, not
questioning the legitimacy of the mitzvos (commandments), merely obstinately
refusing to observe them.
Even so, as the Mishna states, "The boldface are [destined] to Hell" (Pirkei
It's one thing to sin. But one who is *proud* of it has clearly gone beyond
the bounds of acceptability. Sinners G-d can countenance. We all sin here
and there, yet G-d still loves us and looks forward to our repentance.
However, one who refuses to be ashamed of it -- who looks G-d in the eye and
says he just does not care: Such a person will never merit the Divine
Presence in the World to Come. Very often in life it is not the sins we do
which matter so to G-d. It is the attitude we have when we do them.