THE NATIONAL MISSION OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE
RABBI REUVEN MANN
The book of Devarim consists primarily of Moshe Rabeinu’s final addresses to the Jewish people. They were about to embark on the momentous mission of conquering and settling the land which had been chosen for them by G-d. Moshe had a profound desire to enter with them and be of assistance in fashioning the Torah based society which they were bidden to create. The Rabbis say that had Moshe not sinned he would have led the Jews into Israel and built a Temple which would never have been destroyed. Moshe persistently entreated Hashem to rescind the decree against him. Even the Prayers of Moshe, however, are not always accepted. Finally, G-d told him, “Do not speak to Me any further on this matter.” This rebuff did not deter Moshe from doing all in his power to assure that the Jews would prosper and endure in the land. To do so they, would have to recognize their flaws and come to terms with the major sins they had committed in the wilderness.
None was more egregious than that of the Golden Calf which he recounts in Parshat Eikev. Judaism is founded on absolute renunciation of any and all forms of idolatry. From a spiritual standpoint, it is the worst sin one can commit. On the recently observed fast of Tisha B’Av we read about the martyrdom of countless Jewish communities which chose death rather than aquiesce to forced conversion. G-d had threatened to destroy the Jews and create a new nation with Moshe as its founding father. To counter this, he responded with two arguments. First, he protested that this would consititute a violation of the sacred Convenant He made with the Patriarchs. Secondly, he asserted that if Hashem destroyed the Jews, it would negatively impact the Egyptians who would say that, “G-d is unable to bring them to the land He promised them and because He hates them He took them out to kill them in the desert.”
At first glance this argument is difficult to understand. Why does it matter what the Egyptians will think? If G-d’s absolute justice demands this punishment, why should it be withheld merely because its meaning would be misunderstood? To resolve this dillema, we must understand Moshe’s prayer on a deeper level. He was affirming that Hashem cares about what Egypt and all the nations of the world will think. He entrusted the Jews with His Torah so they should be His emissaries through which all of mankind would acknowledge Him and obey His will. Our national mission is expressed in the verse which proclaims, “I shall be sanctified in the midst of the children of Israel.” Jews are to conduct themselves in a manner which causes G-d’s name to be sanctified “in the earth below as it is in the Heaven above.” We must expound the Torah with great wisdom, adhere to exacting standards of honesty and justice in all our dealings and display great compassion and love to all people, Jew and Gentile alike. All who come in contact with us should be inspired to proclaim, “what a wise and discerning people is this great nation.”
We can now understand why Moshe pleaded with Hashem not to destroy the Jews. Such an action would be interpreted as a Divine Failure and would nullify His purpose of having His name revered by all of mankind. Eikev teaches us of the great responsibility we have to behave in a manner which brings honor to ourselves and glory to Hashem and His Torah.