Raison D’etre as a Nation

Our tradition teaches that every human being is created in G-d’s image (Genesis 1:27), and is required to behave morally (by keeping the Noahide laws, as in Tosefta Avoda Zara 9:4). G-d’s decision to give Torah to the Israelites was in no way intended to exempt the rest of humanity from moral behavior. Rather, Israel was given Torah in order to facilitate the morality of all peoples:

“And you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (19:6).”
And all the people answered in unison saying: ‘All that the L-rd has spoken we will do.’ ” (Exodus 19:8)

Just as a kohen (priest) facilitates the spirituality of others, so must a nation of priests facilitate the spirituality of other peoples. The Torah commentator Sforno elucidates: “You will be a treasured nation when you are a kingdom of priests to understand and teach all of mankind to call out to the L-rd.”

The requirement to protect humanity and facilitate morality finds additional expression in many other sources. For example:

  • Noah (a pre-Israelite) is criticized for not interceding with G-d to save his generation (Zohar: Noach 67:2) and for not encouraging his generation to repent (Ibid 68:1)
  • Abraham actively reaches out to idolaters and teaches them about monotheism. (Breishit Rabah 39:21)
  • Abraham is told he and his descendants will be a vehicle for blessing and cursing the families of humanity, and is commanded to “be a blessing” (Genesis 12:2-3).
  • Abraham encourages G-d to spare the (mostly evil) inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18)
  • G-d commands Moses to reach out to Jethro, a former enemy of the Israelites. Without the resultant recognition of G-d by Jethro, the Torah would not have been given. (Shemot Rabah 27:2)
  • Jonah’s refusal to minister to the Ninevites is an explicit attempt to disobey G-d. (Jonah: the entire book) By withholding his prophecy, Jonah deserved death at the hand of G-d (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 89a)
  • The Israelite prophet Elisha minsters to Naaman, the Aramean defense minister (Kings II 5:1-19)
  • Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach is more interested in having a gentile bless the G-d of Israel than in all the money in the world (Jerusalem Talmud, Baba Metzia 2:5, 8c)
  • “A person who is good to Heaven and good to humanity is called a righteous one who is good. A person who is good to Heaven and not good to humanity is called a righteous one who is not good.” (Babylonian Talmud Kiddushin 40a)
  • “We have been taught that when the world becomes full of sin and is doomed to destruction, woe is then to the righteous man who is found in it, for he is first made answerable for its sins.” ( Zohar Noach 67:2)