Wednesday, July 12, 2017

OU TORAH A People That Dwells Alone By Britain's Former Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

One of the most profound and influential comments ever made about Jewish destiny was made by the pagan prophet Bilaam in this week’s sedra: As I see them from the mountain tops, Gaze on them from the heights, Behold it is a people that dwells alone, Not reckoned among the nations. (Num. 23:9) To many – Jews and non-Jews, admirers and critics alike – that has seemed to epitomise the Jewish situation: a people that stands outside history and the normal laws governing the fate of nations. For Jews it was a source of pride. For non-Jews, it was all too often a source of resentment and hate. For centuries, Jews in Christian Europe were treated, in Max Weber’s phrase, as a “pariah people.” All agreed, though, that Jews were different. The question is: how and why? The biblical answer is surprising and profound. It is not that Jews alone knew God. That is manifestly not the case. Bilaam – the very prophet who uttered these words – was not an Israelite. Nor were Abimelekh or Laban, to whom God appears in the book of Genesis. Abraham’s contemporary, Malkizedek, king of Shalem (the city that later became Jerusalem) is described as a priest of the most high God. Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, was a Midianite high priest, yet the sedra that contains the supreme moment of Jewish history – the revelation at Mount Sinai – bears his name. Even the Pharaoh who ruled Egypt in the days of Joseph said of him, “Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?”

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