A Light Unto the Nations
The Torah’s Call
This verse captures the mission statement of the people of Israel. For most of Jewish history, the role of “light unto the nations” has been understood primarily as a private call to have a positive influence on the world by living an ethical life and setting a personal example of righteous behavior.
Rarely was anyone on the outside ever interested in what the people of Israel as a nation had to say. But Isaiah is calling for so much more. The Bible, the “light” that God gave to the people of Israel at Mt. Sinai, is meant to illuminate the entire world. God’s light is capable of opening the eyes of the blind and leading the imprisoned out of darkness.
The establishment of the State of Israel and the return of God’s people to God’s land is a sign that the day has finally come to put Isaiah’s words into action. The people of Israel, a strong nation in its ancestral homeland, are ready to fulfill their destiny and share God’s light with the world.
It is a disservice to Judaism to see its teachings as meant for Jews alone. Moses knew that God had summoned Israel to be more than just one other nation among the many that have surfaced in the course of history. It was to become an example, a role model, a living tutorial in what it is to construct a society built on the idea of the equal dignity of all under the sovereignty of God.
We are a small, embattled country, and a small embattled religion, beset with enemies on all sides and sometimes from within, with a shrinking list of dependable allies. One of the last dependable sources of support for the State of Israel, and sometimes for the Jewish people, are other faith communities – Christians in particular. We also have a second goal… For the first time in 2,000 years, we have an opportunity to speak our minds as believing Jews and provide guidance to others who wish to know the dvar Hashem (the word of G-d) about pressing social issues.
Our deepest solidarity is with our fellow human beings because they are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26). This statement, to my mind the single most powerful in the Bible, is made about the human being as such, not about Jews. If the result of the election in Abraham is an alienation of Israel from the rest of humanity, then the election has achieved the opposite of its intended result. The purpose of Abraham’s election was that “in you shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” If Israel withdraws into its own identity and loses interest in the ties that bind it to the rest of humanity and that make it a surrogate of that humanity, then Israel will have tragically misunderstood its true identity.
The crucial element of our true redemption is this: It is not only the “Jewish question” that is important for the gentiles, but also the “Judaism question”. Meaning, it is not only the Jewish people who need Judaism – the entire world needs Judaism! The nations of the world need the spirit of Judaism. These are the “final days” spoken of by the prophets.
It is a rule of history: when Jews abandon the Torah and behave like all the other nations, the nations persecute us. When Israel recklessly follows western values, the nations hate us even more. Only when we fulfill our destiny and teach the nations how to live G-dly lives based upon Torah values will we transform Israel from the most condemned country into the world’s spiritual superpower.
More and more Christians are reevaluating their understanding of Jews, Torah, and the origins of Christianity as an offshoot of Judaism. These are monumental changes! Like the refounding of the State of Israel, this too is part of the “first flowering of the redemption”. The principles that apply to the process of our own national redemption must guide us here as well. We must recognize that historical changes happen gradually, and that it is our duty to actively participate in these changes and bring the nations closer to the Torah’s ultimate goal. In the words of the Rambam himself: ‘…to pave the path for the king Messiah and to repair the entire world to serve Hashem together, as it states, “Then I will purify the lips of the peoples, that all of them may call on the name of the L-rd and serve Him shoulder to shoulder’ (Tzefanyah 3:9).
The Israel Bible