Chaim Eisen

Segullah”: Privilege or Purpose?

A palpable awkwardness almost inevitably obfuscates any discussion of our perceived identity as the “Am Segullah”1—usually rendered as God’s exclusive, special treasure among the nations. At best, regarding ourselves as thereby “chosen” smacks of a chauvinistic sense of self-endowment; at worst, it evokes comparisons to Nietzsche’s “Ubermenschen” or Dostoyevsky’s Raskolnikov. If construed as conferring inborn privileges, such a doctrine’s corollaries can include pervasive xenophobia and outright bigotry.

Yet, “segullah” elsewhere in the Bible denotes accumulated royal property,2 provided with designated purpose, not prerogatives. Explains Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, “Segullah … does not mean that God does not belong to any other people, but that this people must not belong to any other god, must not acknowledge any other being as a god.”3 Thus, we read the Divine promise, “to set you highest, above all the nations that He made, for praise and for renown and for glory,”4 as not a gift but a summons. Rabbi Ovadyah Seforno comments, “‘And to set you highest’—to understand and to instruct [all the nations].… ‘For praise and for renown and for glory’—of God, may He be Blessed.” Similarly, Rabbi Hirsch observes that the “praise,” “renown” and “glory” are what we respectively offer, so to speak, to God: by serving historically as a demonstration of Divine providence and thereby praising God’s dominion in human destiny, by bearing the Torah that renders God’s will renowned as the source of our spiritual mission and vitality, and by faithfully fulfilling that Torah and thus glorifying God and spreading His light throughout the world. In this vein, he stresses, Yisrael’s “spiritual and moral impact on human consciousness … is the ultimate purpose of [its] historic mission in the world.”5

Recognition of this responsibility permeates Scripture. “I, God, have called you in righteousness and shall hold your hand; and I shall safeguard you and give you for a covenant of the people, for a light of the nations.… I have given you as a light of the nations, that My salvation may be to the end of the earth.… And nations will go by your light, and kings by the gleam of your shining.”6

Rabbi David Kimchi explains, “The nations will go by the light of Yisrael—they and their kings and officers.” Furthermore, notes Rabbi David Altschuler, this promise obligates us: “They will learn from you the ways of God, and you will illuminate their eyes.”7

In this light, we can appreciate the implications of Rabbi Yehudah Halevi’s famous simile, “Yisrael among the nations is like the heart among the organs [of the body].”8 While a body bereft of a heart is clearly dead, a heart dissociated from a body is equally pointless. The body can only function properly and attain its goals when, as an organic whole, it is complete—comprising both a heart and a full complement of organs. Perhaps alluding to this critical interplay, the Bible explicitly likens Yisrael among the nations to the kohanim (priests) within Yisrael. God stipulated at Sinai, “And you shall be to me a kingdom of kohanim and a holy nation,”9 a role the prophet Yeshayahu envisions actualized in the future.10 We should consider the implications of both these metaphors in elucidating Yisrael’s unique role in the world.

The Kohanim and Yisrael, the Heart and the Body

The analogy of the priesthood is especially illuminating. The primary duty of the kohanim was pedagogical—“to instruct the children of Yisrael concerning all the laws that God told them through Moshe.”11 Thus, the prophets likewise portray their mandate.12 In practice, apart from relatively brief respites for Temple service, the kohanim (and, by extension, the leviim and others drawn to the task)13 were charged with teaching and guiding the nation.

The necessity of a sanctified caste, consecrated to spirituality and education, is clear. Yisrael is bidden to function as a normal, autonomous nation, engaging in all the normative pursuits of nationhood; yet, simultaneously, it is vested with the responsibility to advance the world toward its Divine goals. A constant danger perforce inheres in this dialectic. We each seek our individual worldly niches—mindful of the Talmud’s conclusion that, for “each and every one, the Holy One Blessed be He beautified one’s trade to him”14—to ensure the filling of every requisite role in the nation and world. Understanding that this is a crucial aspect of our devotion to Godliness and perfection of His world, we rightly strive indefatigably for professional excellence. But what guarantees that, while doing so, we do not lose sight of the spiritual purpose, which we intend all our efforts ultimately to achieve? What prevents righteous dedication to vocational success from degenerating into all-consuming obsession—reducing our lofty intent to actualize in our careers the Mishnah’s mandate that “all your deeds should be for the sake of Heaven”15 to mere lip service? The Torah’s solution includes designating certain individuals from birth for total immersion in spirituality and holiness. Their training precludes any preoccupation with worldliness and equips them to serve as the essential heart of the nation. Rambam explains, “[The tribe of] Levi did not merit the inheritance of [land in] Eretz Yisrael and its spoils with its brethren, because it was separated to serve God and to minister to Him and to teach His upright ways and righteous laws to the multitudes” (see fn. 13).

Like the heart, pumping life-giving blood throughout the body’s extremities, the kohanim and their associates mediate the connection that spiritually vivifies the nation’s periphery. As such, “kohanim are diligent”;16 one conscious of his role as heart is never quiescent. Similarly, kohanim are notoriously irascible; being so intimately bonded to the essence precludes indifference.17 Thanks to them, terrestrial means, however important, do not obscure transcendent ends.

Finally, as the heart unites all the organs of the body it supports, through the blood coursing equivalently through them all, so the kohanim ensure the integrity of the nation as an organic whole, unified by the Torah’s mission. Thus, Hillel bids us to embrace peace specifically by invoking the paradigmatic kohen, who personified, as the first high priest, the very heart of the kohanim: “Be from among the disciples of Aharon—loving peace and pursuing peace, loving humanity and bringing them close to the Torah.”18 Strife results from the conviction that attaining one’s objectives entails thwarting those of others. True peace among us—as opposed to mere appeasement—is predicated upon appreciating that we all share the same Torah-ordained goals, exemplified by the kohanim, and our disparate endeavors are simply different means to advance them. With this realization, strife is as absurd as a conflict between two hands, which, though performing different functions, are obviously parts of the same body. This is the lesson of the kohanim, the heart of the nation.

Yisrael as the Kohanim—and the Heart—of the World

These conclusions empower us to elucidate God’s promise, “Now, if you truly obey My voice and keep My covenant, you shall be My segullah from among all peoples, for all the world is Mine.”19 Indeed, these words immediately precede the aforementioned metaphor, “And you shall be to me a kingdom of kohanim and a holy nation” (see fn. 9). Rabbi Ovadyah Seforno comments, “‘You shall be My segullah from among all peoples’—Even though all humankind is more precious to Me than all the rest of terrestrial creatures … you will be ‘My segullah’ from among all of them. ‘For all the world is Mine’—and the difference between you [and other peoples] is one of degree; for, indeed, ‘all the world is Mine,’ and the pious of the nations of the world are precious to Me without doubt.” Moreover, Rabbi Hirsch explains “for all the world is Mine” as part of the mission: “The relationship that you are to establish now between you and Me … initiates the renewal of the normal relationship that should exist between ‘all the world’ and Me. After all, by their destiny, all people and all peoples are Mine, and I am dedicating them to be Mine.” Yisrael’s designation as God’s “firstborn,” he observes, means that Yisrael is God’s first, but not only, child.20 “As the first among the nations, [Yisrael] must lead all the other peoples on the road back to God and to His Law,”21 by serving, on behalf of all of humanity, “as a manifest example, a warning, a model, an education.”22 In summation, “Yisrael has no other task than to acknowledge as its God the One Who calls and educates all human beings to His service, and to make Him known as such, through its destiny and way of life” (see fn. 3).

This is our essential duty as “a kingdom of kohanim.” Rabbi Ovadyah Seforno elaborates, “You shall be ‘a kingdom of kohanim,’ to understand and to instruct all humankind, ‘all to call in God’s Name [and] to serve Him with one accord.’23 Thus will the matter of Yisrael be in the future to come; like [Yeshayahu’s] statement, ‘And you shall be called “kohanei Hashem (see fn. 10).’” In this vein, Rabbi Hirsch adds that our role as kohanim is “for the sake of that selfsame destiny of ‘all the world.’…Each and every one of you will be a kohen…and spread knowledge of God and submission to God, through the utterances of his mouth and the example of his deeds.” And, communally, our responsibility as “a holy nation” is “for the sake of establishing the kingdom of Heaven and its glorification on earth. This nation shall seek greatness not in its might but in the absolute dominion of the Divine moral law. Surely, this is the implication of ‘holiness.’”

In this light, we can better appreciate the Divine mandate, “I shall safeguard you and give you for a covenant of the people, for a light of the nations.”24 Rabbi David Kimchi notes, “‘For a covenant of the people’ [means] ‘for the sustenance of each and every nation’; for on account of you the entire world is sustained …on two levels. One is that there will be peace on account of them among all the nations; as [Zecharyah] said of the Mashiach, ‘And he will speak peace unto the nations’;25 and [Yeshayahu] said, ‘And [He will] rebuke many peoples; and they will beat their swords into plowshares,’26 et cetera. And the second is that because of Yisrael the nations will observe [the] seven [Noachide] laws and go on the way of goodness; as in, ‘He will instruct us of His ways, and we will go in His paths,’27 et cetera.” “Like the heart among the organs,” on both levels, Yisrael is spiritually to vivify and sustain the entire world.

Furthermore, apropos of the role of the kohanim mediating peace within Yisrael, we should consider the prerequisite of world peace envisioned by the prophets: “And many peoples will go and say, ‘Come and let us ascend to the mountain of God, to the house of the God of Yaakov, and He will instruct us of His ways, and we will go in His paths’; for from Tzion shall go forth Torah and the word of God from Yerushalayim.”27 Rabbi Hirsch comments on this verse that “the teachings of right and social justice, of righteousness and love, shall one day become part of the life of all mankind, without exception.”28 In the wake of that universal recognition, “And He will judge among the nations and rebuke many peoples; and they will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor shall they learn war anymore.” True peace among nations is possible only once they all accept their diverse characters and ostensibly divergent interests and activities as complementary means for actualizing the same sacred objectives. As in the microcosm of the nation of Yisrael, such a realization renders strife absurd. The “Isaiah Wall” adjacent to the UN headquarters testifies to international submission to this utopian vision of the prophets, but the world has yet to appreciate that its fulfillment depends on the preceding verse.

The Sarim of the Nations

More fundamentally, though, to relate properly to the diverse characters and divergent interests of the nations of the world, we must invoke an additional, elusive concept. As articulated explicitly in Daniel’s visions29 and reiterated continually throughout Talmudic and Midrashic literature, each archetypal nation has a “sar”—a so-called Divine officer—appointed over it, so to speak, in Heaven.30 Such a foundational principle clearly demands explication, especially given its superficial resemblance to such idolatrous vulgarities as national and territorial deities and pagan pantheons. Who—or what—are these sarim?

Perhaps the most direct, albeit cryptic, definition of a sar is an incorporeal intellect that is a nation’s soul. To understand this equation, consider that, on a microcosmic scale, we regard every human being as endowed with an individual soul—one’s spiritual essence. Simultaneously, the Talmud notes that, macrocosmically, in manifold ways, God’s relationship to the world—as the world’s spiritual essence, in Whom everything is subsumed31—is analogous to the relationship of a soul to a body.32 Between these scales, a nation’s sar is its national spiritual essence. Each individual retains free will and consequent autonomy, as well as the personal uniqueness that equips everyone to find one’s niche in one’s nation and the world, through which ideally to advance the goal “to perfect the world through the reign of the Almighty.”33 Yet, nations are also significant components in this scheme, each provided with distinct national attributes enabling it to contribute singularly to this end. A person harnesses a vast array of organs, which one’s body comprises, in attaining one’s objectives. So, too, the multifarious missions of the members of a nation are all subsumed in its overarching aims,34 which ideally represent its particular contribution to the world’s final completeness. In this sense, a nation’s sar is its collective, composite soul, encompassing all the souls of its members.

Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler offers a parallel formulation: “Within this ultimate purpose [of Creation], each and every nation serves in [advancing] a specific goal, corresponding to its essential character. Thus, this unique character of every nation is its spiritual content, and this is the matter that our Sages intimated to us in connection with the ‘sarim of the nations.’”35 While the sarim are entities and not mere ideas, they represent the ideological and cultural heritage of the world’s nations—and thereby the means through which each nation leaves its indelible mark on the vast tapestry of existence.

It is no wonder, then, that we find the prophet Yechezkel lamenting the destruction of heathen nations who were not even our friends.36 Likewise, the Talmud relates that even the unavoidable destruction of the Egyptians at the splitting of the sea elicited, so to speak, Divine sorrow.37 After all, if every archetypal nation was endowed with an original character and an attendant, unduplicated role in realizing the world’s destiny, the loss of any nation is calamitous.38 Beyond the personal tragedies involved, such a loss necessarily entails an irreparable cosmic deficiency. To be complete, the great crescendo of world history demands every player and every instrument in the monumental symphony orchestra of Creation. Expressed by Rabbi Hirsch,

We are all working on one great edifice—all the nations…are being guided toward serving the One God. The righteous among the nations, who exemplified unselfish justice and genuine human dignity, lived for this goal. The enlightened among them labored for it when they lifted up their brethren by word and deed to the One Alone, to respect for justice and to the elevation of man above the level of beasts. Toward the overall goal of humanity, the art of the Greeks—to the extent that it was morally clean—had a refining effect on the mind, and their thought—to the extent that it embodied truth—enlightened the spirit. Toward this end, the Romans’ sword united the nations; and, in a more peaceful way, the trade of the Europeans laid the basis for a brotherly community of nations. Yisrael, too, has contributed to this end, in its own way.39

Yisrael’s Role Among the Nations

We can clarify Yisrael’s “own way” in this context based upon our earlier analogies. Like the kohanim among us and “the heart among the organs,” Yisrael singularly lacks the sort of particularized niche epitomized by the range of sarim. Thus, the Torah relates that, when this hierarchy was “apportioned … to all the nations beneath all the heavens…God took you, and brought you out of the iron crucible, out of Egypt, to be His heritage people, as you are today.”40 More expressly, “God’s portion is His people; Yaakov is the lot of His heritage.… God alone guides it, and there is with Him no alien power.”41 The sar of the nation of Yisrael exercises neither guidance nor governance, which God, so to speak, retains directly.42 Indeed, this sar is introduced to Daniel as “Michael,”  (see fn. 29) meaning “Who is like God?”—testifying simply to the all-encompassing message that it is our sacred duty to promulgate. In this vein, the Midrash stresses repeatedly that Yisrael is not part of the Divine scheme of sarim and nations (see fn. 30). Altogether, Rabbi Saadyah Gaon asserts, “Yisrael is a nation solely through its Torahs.”43 It is to remain at the essential core, heart-like, spiritually exalting and vivifying all the specific missions animating the world’s diverse nations. This is, after all, consistently the kohen’s task: to uplift, sanctify and unite all aspects of the periphery.

Moreover, the bestowal of Eretz Yisrael reflects the same dynamism that applies to Am Yisrael. The Midrash observes, “The Holy One Blessed be He … when He created the world, apportioned the lands to the sarim of the nations and chose Eretz Yisrael.… And He chose Yisrael for His portion; as it is said, ‘But God’s portion is His people; Yaakov is the lot of His heritage.’ Said the Holy One Blessed be He, ‘Yisrael, who came to [be] My portion, should come to and inherit the Land, which came to [be] My portion.’”44 Similarly, the Zohar concludes, “The Holy One Blessed be He distinguished all peoples and lands, to appoint delegates [for them]. Yet, no angel or other delegate controls the Land of Yisrael; rather, He alone. Because of this, He brought the people that none other controls to the land that none other controls.”45

Still, this special endowment—and its attendant intimacy with God—is no unconditional gift. As Rabbi Yehudah Halevi notes, inherent in the role of the heart is its exceptional sensitivity.46 Thus, Amos warns Yisrael in God’s name, “Only you have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore, I shall reckon with all your iniquities upon you.”47 A parallel perspicacity, with equally dire potential consequences, applies to Eretz Yisrael.48 With terrifying prescience, the Midrash elaborates: “‘God’s wrath will be kindled against you’—and not against the nations of the world. For the nations of the world will be saying, ‘[The nations] are immersed in goodness, and [the Jews] are immersed in anguish; the nations of the world do not bury their sons and daughters, and [the Jews] bury their sons and daughters.’”49 Instead of privileges, Yisrael’s national and territorial identities are subordinated to its Divinely ordained historic mandate. In this land alone, Jews acquire communal, not merely individual, status.50 Thus, only in its homeland, Yisrael can expect to establish an autonomous model state permeated with true holiness,51 to illuminate and inspire all nations. Furthermore, Eretz Yisrael’s placement at the historic epicenter of civilization52 has consistently maximized our exposure and impact. Therefore, Rabbi Yehudah Halevi explains, “This land—which is designated for the rectification of the entire world—was prepared as a heritage for the tribes of the children of Yisrael.”53 Comments Rabbi Hirsch, “There, Yisrael will dwell apart from the nations.…From it, the blessing will go forth; it will be the source of blessing.”54 Equipping Yisrael with its land is a means to fulfilling its duties for all humankind.

Yisrael’s dereliction of its responsibilities affected both it and the world. The Talmud relates cryptically that “the Holy One Blessed be He exiled Yisrael among the nations solely so proselytes would be added to them.”55 It seems odd to regard such laudable conversions as a consequence of Yisrael’s sins and most dire punishment. We should, however, contrast this dynamism with the God-given ideal. Yisrael, as a sovereign state in its land, was to serve as a role model, instilling Godliness in all nations, as the latter continue engaging in their particular national pursuits, all of them means to perfecting God’s world. Varying the metaphor, the objective was not unison but harmony: myriad distinctive melodies that complement—rather than compete with—one another. In this portrayal, Yisrael is the orchestral conductor, charged with ensuring that every player is properly synchronized, to contribute the best to the world’s great, emergent symphony. When Yisrael neglected its task, apart from its own spiritual deficit, it forfeited its right to the land that is “designated for the rectification of the entire world.” Exiled and bereft of the opportunity to broadcast spirituality as an autonomous nation, it was reduced to functioning on the level of individuals. At worst, these succumbed to the hierarchy of sarim and strove to abandon their destiny altogether.56 (Jews seem to have always exemplified patriotism and nationalism on behalf of the nations among whom they resided.) At best, we are still bidden in exile to epitomize personal righteousness, which may stimulate our neighbors to convert. Nevertheless, such conduct is a paltry substitute for the national ideal. The conductor, denied his baton, can yet train additional conductors—but, all the while, the orchestra remains conductorless, producing cacophony and no music.

Perfecting—and Redeeming—the Entire World

In this sorry state, the world still approaches its destination, albeit circuitously. Thus, Christianity and Islam have functioned historically as our proxies—notwithstanding the unspeakable atrocities perpetrated by many of their adherents—in disseminating the basics of God’s Torah and advancing the world toward its final goal. Rabbi Yehudah Halevi describes them as the “preparation and prelude to the awaited Mashiach, who is the [world’s] fruition.”57 More explicitly, Rambam asserts, “All these matters of Jesus the Notzeri and of [Mohammed] the Yishmaeli, who arose after him, are solely to straighten the way for the King Mashiach and to perfect all the world to serve God together; as it is said, ‘For then I shall change to a clear language for peoples, for them all to call in God’s Name [and] to serve Him with one accord’  [see fn. 23]….”58 Through them, the fundamentals of ethical monotheism have spread to “the distant isles” and most of humanity. As God chose us to be the heart, so they have served as arteries, infusing the heart’s spiritual vitality throughout the world.

Moreover, we all yet yearn and strive to actualize the world’s ultimate destiny: “And it shall be at the end of the days, the mountain of the house of God will be established on the top of the mountains and exalted above the hills, and all the nations will stream to it.”59 Rashi defines the prerequisite of “the end of the days” simply as “once criminals cease.” Nonetheless, people come as “all the nations”—not as Jews—each bearing its distinct ideological and cultural heritage, but bringing it to God’s house, to which, in the end, each realizes its unique legacy is dedicated. Rabbi Hirsch notes that the “hoped-for ‘return’ [of all human beings to God] is not…a mass conversion of all men to Judaism [but] … the conversion of all mankind to true humanity … in accordance with the universal moral law, which has been handed down in the Torah of Judaism for all the rest of mankind as well to follow.”60 As cited above, this alone can render international strife an anachronistic absurdity. Likewise, Yeshayahu envisions God bringing “children of the stranger … to My holy mountain and … rejoicing them in My house of prayer … for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.”61 As Rashi emphasizes, “a house of prayer for all the peoples,” like the heralded ingathering itself, is not exclusively for Jews. Thus, Rabbi Hirsch stresses, “The choosing of Yisrael … begins the rebuilding of the spiritual and moral edifice of humanity.… The Temple of Yisrael will be … the center for all humanity redeemed in God.”62 Similarly, when accused, by the British commission deliberating the revocation of Jewish rights to the Western Wall, that Jews aspired to build their Temple by destroying the mosques currently occupying its location, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook replied: When it is time to rebuild the Temple, the Muslims will run ahead to dissemble their mosques, eager to make room for God’s renewed “house of prayer for all the peoples.” Indeed, the Midrash relates that, “had the nations of the world known what good the Temple was for them, they would have surrounded it with fortifications to safeguard it.”63 The redemption we seek is not only ours. Our objective, reiterated at the culmination of all our prayers, is “to perfect the world through the reign of the Almighty” (see fn. 33).

Still, some will regard this perspective—or any that reaffirms the Torah’s assertion that Yisrael is “chosen”—as unconscionably chauvinistic. Admittedly, there are among us those who, confusing “segullah” with superiority, degrade and denigrate others. We yet have much to refine within ourselves. Twenty years after narrowly surviving the Holocaust, Rabbi Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg nevertheless urged, “It is fitting to put an end to the hatred of the religions for each other.”64 The antidote to such xenophobia, however, is not denying our historic role—rather, appreciating the premise of worldwide fraternity that underlies it. The Mishnah’s observation that “man is beloved, for he was created with the [Divine] essence”65 applies to both Jew and non-Jew. Likewise, regarding all humankind, it teaches, “Man was created singly … so a person would not say to his fellow, ‘[My] father is greater than your father.’”66 Rabbi Hirsch asks rhetorically, “Does not Yisrael consider universal acceptance of the brotherhood of mankind to be its ultimate goal?” (See fn. 3.) A conductor oblivious of the orchestra, like a heart divorced from the body’s other organs, is worthless.

In practice, our mission nonetheless dictates that, presently, perforce, “Yisrael dwells alone.”67 But, Rabbi Hirsch challenges, “Does this spell enmity? Or pride? As if God were not the Lord of all creatures, all men?” (See fn. 3.) As he explains elsewhere, Yisrael “has to remain separate until the day on which all mankind will have absorbed the lessons of its experiences and the example of this nation, and will united turn toward God.”68 Still, most crucially, this future we crave must guide our attitude even now. Rabbi Kook exclaims, “I love everything. I cannot refrain from loving all creatures, all peoples. With all the depths of my heart, I desire the glory of all, the perfection of all. My love for Yisrael is more passionate, more profound; however, the inner yearning spreads by the might of its love over everything.”69 Only thus, can we aspire finally to realize the prophets’ vision: “None shall hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain; for the world will be filled with knowledge of God as the waters cover the seabed. And on that day, nations shall seek the root of Yishai, which stands as a banner for peoples, and his resting place shall be glorious.”70 So may we merit fulfilling it, speedily, in our days.


  1. See Shemot 19:5; Devarim 7:6, 14:2, and 26:18 and Tehillim 135:4.
  2. See Kohelet 2:8 and Divrei Hayamim I 29:3. In Talmudic literature, “segullah” means exclusively designated property, to which no one but the owner has any rights. See Tosefta Terumot 1:15, Tosefta Babba Kamma 9:3 and 11:1, Babba Kamma 87b, Babba Batra 52a, Yerushalmi Ketubbot 4:1 (22b) and Yerushalmi Babba Kamma 9:7 (30b).
  3. “Letter Fifteen,” The Nineteen Letters, trans. Karin Paritzky, com. Joseph Elias (Jerusalem, 1995), 198.
  4. Devarim 26:19.
  5. Commentary on Devarim 28:10.
  6. Yeshayahu 42:6, 49:6 and 60:3.
  7. Radak and Metzudat David commentaries on Yeshayahu 60:3.
  8. Sefer HaKuzari 2:36. The same simile appears in Zohar, III, 221b.
  9. Shemot 19:6.
  10. Yeshayahu 61:6.
  11. Vayikra 10:11. See also Devarim 33:10.
  12. See Yechezkel 44:23 and Malachi 2:7.
  13. See Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Shemittah VeYovel 13:12-3.
  14. Berachot
  15. Avot 2:12.
  16. Shabbat 20a and 114b, et cetera.
  17. See Babba Batra 160b and Sanhedrin 113a, and see Maharal, Chiddushei Aggadot on Sanhedrin, loc. cit.
  18. Avot 1:12.
  19. Shemot 19:5.
  20. Commentary on Shemot 4:22.
  21. Commentary on Tehillim 47:10, trans. Gertrude Hirschler.
  22. “Letter Seven,” The Nineteen Letters, 105-6.
  23. Tzefanyah 3:9.
  24. Yeshayahu 42:6.
  25. Zecharyah 9:10.
  26. Yeshayahu 2:4.
  27. 2:3.
  28. Commentary on Tehillim 25:4.
  29. See Daniel 10:13,20-1 and 12:1.
  30. See Sifrei on Devarim 32:9 and 32:12; Shemot Rabbah 32:7; Bamidbar Rabbah 9:7 and 20:19; Devarim Rabbah (Lieberman) 2:40; Tanchuma Noach 3, Vayeshev 1, Balak 12, Re’eh 8, and Ha’azinu 6; Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer 24 and Midrash Tehillim 5:1 and 28:1.
  31. See Bereishit Rabbah 68:9.
  32. See Berachot
  33. See Rabbi Tzadok HaKohen, Resisei Lailah, ch. 58 (p. 171).
  34. Michtav MeEliyahu II (Jerusalem, 1963), 50. See also ibid. III (Benei Berak, 1964), 200 and 216, and IV (Jerusalem, 1983), 129.
  35. See Yechezkel 27:1-36, 28:11-9 and 32:1-16.
  36. See Megillah 10b and Sanhedrin 39b, and see Michtav MeEliyahu III, 216.
  37. Regarding the correspondence between the seventy “archetypal” nations, each with its own sar, and the vastly greater number of contemporary states, see Bamidbar Rabbah 9:14. Three primary colors can of course be mixed to produce every hue in the spectrum. In light of the above midrash, we may consider the seventy “archetypal” nations, with their unique roles and distinct missions, to have combined to yield the gamut of modern states, each with its own novel blend.
  38. “Letter Fifteen,” The Nineteen Letters, 199-200.
  39. Devarim 4:19-20.
  40. 32:9,12.
  41. See Ramban, commentary on Vayikra 18:25.
  42. HaEmunot VeHaDeot 3:7.
  43. Tanchuma Re’eh
  44. Zohar, I, 108b. See also Ta’anit
  45. See Sefer HaKuzari 2:44.
  46. Amos 3:2. See also Tanna DeVei Eliyahu Rabba 15:9 (29a), Midrash Yitbarach and Zohar, II, 17b, and see Sefer HaKuzari, loc. cit.
  47. From the Torah’s threatened punishment of exile, the Midrash concludes: “Eretz Yisrael is not like all the rest of the world; it does not sustain violators of transgressions” (Sifra on Vayikra 20:22). See also Vayikra 18:25 and Devarim 11:10-2 with commentaries.
  48. Sifrei on Devarim 11:17.
  49. See Berachot 58a and Horayot See also Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Shegagot 13:2.
  50. In this vein, the Talmud states, “There is no semichah [ordination] outside the Land” (Sanhedrin 14a); the full judicial fabric that is the hallmark of true Jewish society can develop only in Eretz Yisrael. See also Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Sanhedrin 4:4,6, 5:8-17 and 13:8; Tur, Choshen Mishpat 1, 2 and 420 and Shulchah Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 1:1.
  51. See Tanchuma Kedoshim See also Ramban, commentary on Bereishit 12:8, that the patriarchs’ mission to teach humanity about God was principally focused in Eretz Yisrael.
  52. Sefer HaKuzari 2:16.
  53. Commentary of Bereishit 12:3.
  54. Pesachim
  55. Conceptually, this is the intent expressed by Jewish exiles in Yechezkel 20:32 and further detailed in Sanhedrin Note that, as prophesied by Yechezkel, such attempts to sever our bond to God and reject our attendant identity and its concomitant responsibilities are ultimately doomed to failure.
  56. Sefer HaKuzari 4:23.
  57. Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Melachim 11:4 (uncensored version). See also “Letter Nine,” The Nineteen Letters, 126.
  58. Yeshayahu 2:2.
  59. Commentary on Aleinu, in The Hirsch Siddur, trans. Gertrude Hirschler (Jerusalem, 1978), pp. 208-9.
  60. Yeshayahu 56:6-7.
  61. Commentary on Vayikra 20:26.
  62. Bamidbar Rabbah 1:3, Vayikra Rabbah 1:11 and Shir Hashirim Rabbah 2:3 (5). Regarding the benefit of the Temple to the nations of the world, see in addition Melachim I 8:41-3 and Divrei Hayamim II 6:32-3, and see Sukkah An alternative midrash relates that the seventy archetypal nations wept with Yisrael over the Temple’s destruction. See Eichah Rabbah 1:23.
  63. Letter to Professor Samuel Atlas, 15 November 1965, quoted by Marc B. Shapiro, “Scholars and Friends: Rabbi Jehiel Jacob Weinberg and Professor Samuel Atlas,” Torah U-Madda Journal 7 (1997), 118.
  64. Avot 3:14.
  65. Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5.
  66. Devarim 33:28.
  67. “Letter Seven,” The Nineteen Letters, 106-7.
  68. Arfillei Tohar (Jerusalem, 1983), 31.
  69. Yeshayahu 11:9-10.

For the past twenty-two years, Rabbi Eisen has taught at various yeshivot in Israel and lectured extensively on Jewish thought throughout Israel and the United States. As founding editor of the OU journal Jewish Thought, he also wrote and edited numerous essays in this field. He currently teaches at the Seymour J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center and in the Torah Lecture Corps of the IDF Rabbinate (res.).

This article was featured in the Fall 2004 issue of Jewish Action.