Are We Still a Holy Nation?

When you lived in the rocky cave, there did you acquire your splendor and your beauty (From the poem Bar Yochai by Rabbi Shimon Lavi).

My Lord before I was created I was not worthy (Ne’ilah Amidah). All of historical time prior to my birth there was surely no need for me, for if there had been a cosmic purpose for my presence, I would have been created earlier. It must be that the need for me arose just when I was created, for the time has come for me to fulfill something which the cosmos requires for its consummation (Olat Riyah, HaRav Kook).

The Jewish people is in the throes of an ongoing dilemma: on the one hand we are enjoined to be a holy people (Exodus 19:6), which is our very raison d’etre. On the other hand, we live in the midst of a culture which glorifies actions and values in direct opposition to sanctity and modesty. Certainly our life purpose is linked up with our own generation with all its defects. It is inconceivable that we fulfill our purpose by total withdrawal and total segregation from our surroundings. Surely it is our challenge and obligation to overcome and transform rather than retreat.

Yet our involvement makes us vulnerable to the crudities and temptations of the dominant culture. Can we remain unaffected by the shocking coarseness of media speech, the rampant defamation of character and slander and the decline of business integrity and honesty? The recent question of coed dormitories highlighted the precarious quandaries with which our generation is presented in struggling to maintain its position as a Holy Nation.

It is therefore all the more essential that we maintain Jewish standards of proper speech and proper action to prevent our succumbing to the temptations of the dominant culture. We need to be more, rather than less scrupulous about halachic standards which serve as a bulwark against challenges to our values system; we need to combat coarseness with an ever greater emphasis on refinement. We also need to seize the moments of sanctity and intensify the moments of withdrawal. Thus, for example, we must prepare for the Sabbath with greater care and thus derive so much more from the day itself. We need to associate much more with those individuals who themselves reflect sanctity. All of this will enable each of us to experience God in our daily lives and reach the spiritual core within ourselves.

We have asked a group of individuals who are themselves involved in bringing the sanctity of Torah to our generation to explore from their different perspectives how we can indeed continue to be a holy nation.

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This article was featured in the Fall 2001 issue of Jewish Action.
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