Universalism demands humility

If we have something to offer humanity, then the most humble way is not through preaching, but through the power of our own collective example.

As a Jewish educator who is devoted to the Torah's universal vision, I must take issue with Shmuley Boteach's understanding of Jewish universalism as expressed in his November 19 Post column "Spiritual stag night." Boteach wrote: "Seminars on classic Jewish texts such as the Bible, the Talmud and the Zohar should be offered at churches, libraries, around [America] We should send out rabbis to our Christian brothers and sisters to expose them to the Jewish wisdom that was so formative in the life and teachings of Jesus; it will, in turn, deepen their understanding of Christianity." He called for "highlighting Jewish values for the masses" and referred to "the Jewish need to bring the light of Jewish values to the non-Jewish world." The approach he is recommending, however, is not in the spirit of the Jewish value of humility, which is mentioned in the following message of the Prophet Micah: "He has told you, O human being, what is good! What does God require of you but to do justice, love loving-kindness, and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8) It is not enough to follow a path of justice and love; one must also walk on that path with humility. It is a principle which can apply to both an individual and a people. And if we, the People of Israel, have something to offer humanity, then the most humble way to make that contribution is not through preaching to others, but through the power of our own collective example. We therefore need to remember that after we received the Torah at Mount Sinai, the God did not cause us to spread out among the peoples and preach to them; instead, we were brought to the promised land so that we could be "a people that will dwell apart" (Numbers 23:9). In this way, we could eventually become a social model for all the peoples through fulfilling the ethical and spiritual precepts of the Torah. When we succeed in reaching this goal, we will gain their respect, as Moses proclaimed to our people: "See! I have taught you statutes and social laws, as the Lord, my God, has commanded me, to do so in the midst of the Land to which you come, to possess it. You shall safeguard and fulfill them, for it is your wisdom and understanding in the eyes of the peoples, who shall hear all these statutes and who shall say, 'Surely a wise and understanding people is this great nation!'" (Deuteronomy 4:5,6) Yes, there is a Jewish need to bring the light of Jewish values to the non-Jewish world - a reference to the Divine call for us to become "a light to the nations" (Isaiah 42:6); however, this Divine call does not speak of our going out to the nations; instead, there is a Divine promise that the nations will go to us when we serve as a model of the Divine teachings: "For behold, darkness may cover the earth and a thick cloud the kingdoms, but upon you God will shine, and His glory will be seen upon you. Nations will go to your light" (Isaiah 60:2,3). Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, a noted biblical commentator of the 19th century, had a creative insight as to how we become a living example of the Torah. He suggests that the word "Torah" is derived from the word "harah" - to receive a seed within oneself, to become pregnant. Rabbi Hirsch adds: "Torah therefore means a seed put by God into the womb of a nation from which the whole life of that nation in all its personal and collective aspects is to develop; it is a Divine seed whose product we call Israel." Our Divine assignment is to nurture the seed of the divine teaching implanted within ourselves. In this way, we can become an ethical and spiritual model that will inspire the nations to study and fulfill those teachings and precepts of the Torah which apply to all humankind. Zion will then become the unifying spiritual center for all humanity: "It will happen in the end of days: The mountain of the Temple of God 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. Many peoples will go and say, 'Come, let us go up to the Mountain of God, to the Temple of the God of Jacob, and He will teach us of His ways and we will walk in His paths.' For from Zion will go forth Torah, and the word of God from Jerusalem." (Isaiah 2: 2,3) The writer is the author of The Universal Jew (Feldheim), and he serves as the director of the Torah study program, Hazon - Our Universal Vision.