I always believed that the phrase, “Or la Goyim” meant that we, the Jewish people, have a sacred duty to bring the laws of G-d to mankind. That the tablets of the Law, that Moses brought down from Mt Sinai were meant to teach how civilized society was to function for the betterment of all people everywhere.
Indeed, the first codification of what might be considered the basis for the Declaration of Human Rights, is probably that ancient Decalogue of all the positive and negative points of jurisprudence indicated on those stone tablets that are displayed in many halls of justice throughout the modern, civilized world.
However it is has been tragically demonstrated that the Jewish people, to whom these laws were first revealed, to have borne the brunt of massive injustice, persecution, slaughter and massacre perhaps for the very reason these laws were placed upon our shoulders over 30 centuries ago.
Look at the place on the globe where a benevolent G-d gave to us as an eternal inheritance. This land of Israel has been a passageway for warring armies and empires for centuries. Hundreds of years before the great imperialist powers of those eras, Greece and Rome, whose thunderous hordes of marching feet passed across our land, we were continually challenged and conquered by earlier hegemonic conquerors bent on world ( what was considered the world) of their time.
Ancient aggressors such as Assyria, Babylon, Persia and older enemies, Philistines, Amalekites, and other peoples long since gone and forgotten but for archaeologists and historians, saw the Jewish people as easy conquests or, in their desire to seize more territories, tramped through our land, with sword, spear and chariots, bringing death and destruction to our villages and cities.destruction in their wake.
The Greeks, under Alexander the Macedonian, on his way to conquer the Persian Empire, brought a pagan and abhorrent Hellenistic culture to Jerusalem. When his empire was split among his three generals, originally Ptolemy of Egypt ( an ancestor of Cleoptra) ruled the area of Israel. but in a war for territory, his nemesis, Seleucus, who ruled from Damascus, conquered our land and allegiance transferred to him.
In 168 BCE, the Seleucid ruler, Antiochus Epiphanes, in his policy of forcing Helenistic culture upon all the peoples of his empire, decided that idol worship, especially of his visage, should be paid obeisance. The practices of the Jewish faith, circumcision, study of Torah and Hebrew and the swift punishment by death, in the most horrific fashion by being scourged and then having the living flesh torn from one’s body, for disobeying these calumnies, resulted in the Maccabean Revolt of 165 BCE which overthrew the tyrannical Seleucid rule. This was the first significant challenge. Oh yes, the destruction of the Temple of Solomon in 586 BCE by the Babylonians should not be glossed over, but that was an act of war by conquest and the Babylonians did not attempt to destroy Judaism. In fact, it was later after their defeat at the hands of the Persians, that we were able to return to Jerusalem under Ezra and Neheniah and we began to rebuild the Temple. The Seleucids already had conquered Israel, they had the land, their main aim was to destroy the faith and practice of Judaism.
After the Greeks came the Romans with their golden eagles and purple robes. Also a pagan nation that worshiped idols and brought their trappings of dictatorial rule upon us, they, unlike the Greeks, did not assault the practice of our faith, they were basically interested in collecting taxes and ensuring trade routes for their commerce.
However, in 66CE, the emperor, Nero, a psychotic narcissist and guilty of murdering his pregnant wife by jumping up and down on her abdomen, decided that his golden eagles should adorn the Temple (which had been magnificently restored by another mad man named Herod) in Jerusalem. When these gold figurines were placed on the Temple walls. bands of Jews, known as Sicarii (named for the daggers they carried known as a “Sica”), or todaly given the appellation of Zealots, tore down the pagan idols and Nero demanded that the Temple be destroyed and the Jews “taught a lesson.”
The great Jewish Revolt of 66CE-73CE has been extensively written about by many scholars. In fact, the work that I would suggest to anyone interested is the “Jewish War” by an eyewitness to the destruction of the temple by Titus in 70Ce, Flavius Joshepus, also known as Joseph ben Mattityahu, the former commander of Jewish forces in the Galilee, who surrendered to Titus and his father, Vespasian, after the defeat of the Jewish forces at Yodefat (Jotapota).
The pagans simply could not leave us alone to worship G-d as we desired and follow His Laws. No, I will not recite chapter and verse of all the travail of our conquered nation through 20 centuries, passing from one conqueror to another, one foreign occupier to another, one battle after another, suffice it to say that the outside world had seen us a easy prey and did their utmost to destroy us and the law that was and, for the most part, still rejected by the nations surrounding our tiny Jewish country.
But the greatest two challenges brought upon us were not to be directed at the small. remaining communities if Jews that had withstood the centuries of foreign rule here, but in two of the most vicious and powerful societies that ever graced the planet.
Even though the Soviet Union, in its constitution made anti-Semitism a crime, the assault on Judaism never wavered. The atheistic communist dogma respected no religion, not Christianity nor Islam, but had a particular vehemence against Judaism. Synagogues were looted of their possessions, the teaching of Hebrew was outlawed, Zionism was declared counter-revolutionary, although the Yiddish Bund was permitted to operate as tool of the Soviets and a Jewish section of the communist party, the “Yevsektzia” was formed, still the leader of the Marxist revolution, Vladimir Lenin (whose mother’s maiden name was Blank-no relation) had no love for these anti-Zionist zealots-in fact, he called the Bundists, “Zionists afraid of a sea voyage.”
The former Soviet Union sent Zionists to the gulag( among them Menachem Beigin) , assassinated tens of thousands of Jews who refused to stop practicing their faith, denied employment and government positions ot Jews and even Stalin, whose son in law was a Jew, hated his grandchildren because he said they had “Jewish eyes.
The Soviet Union attempted to destroy Judaism through assimilation of the youth, bigotry and prejudice against their parents and grandparents and the theft and confiscation of Jewish property and the laws that made Zionism and anything connected to it, even the teaching of the Hebrew language, a crime punishable by exile to the gulag and sometimes, death. The challenge to the Jews of the FSU was disappearance by massive assimilation and heavy punishment-even the denial until the last 30 years of permitting Soviet Jews to emigrate to Israel. And we have seen the failure of the Soviet Union’s plot to destroy the Jewish soul by the more than one million Jews who have made their lives in Israel today. The Communist War against the Jewish spirit, failed.
The second, and most horrific challenge to Jewish survival, was, of course, the Nazi Holocaust. Here, not only was the Jewish spirit the target, but the Jewish body as well. Even the Soviets, whose hatred of Judaism was unparalleled until the rise if Nazism, never sought to exterminate the Jews of that nation.
The Nazis attacked Judaism not only as a civilization, but as a parasitic sub-human species unworthy of life itself. Never had we been so endangered as to disappear off the very planet we live on. Nazi doctrine declared Jews as lower than vermin and used the same asphyxiating gas used to kill rats, to put two thirds of European Jewry to death.
It seemed that our “Or” our “Light” was doomed to be permanently put out. Where was G-d in Auschwitz is a question that theologians and historians will argue for a millenium to come, as long as there are learned people to debate and discuss this-I shall not. It is not my intention to provide this answer to any of the challenges mentioned above, but to direct us today, to the inevitable conclusion that the title of this missive declares.
For 3000 years man has rejected what G-d has provided the Jews-to be a light unto the nations, to direct men and women as to how they can create a just society where all can live under their own “vine and fig tree” has been the bane and the boon to my tortured people. It has brought upon us almost universal hatred and heaped upon us the history of blood and pain that seems to dominate our existence and, that even today, threatens us with the liquidation of the sovereignty, so terrifyingly difficult, that we have restored in our homeland.
The challenge we face today in Israel, is no different than the ones that preceded it. Sure, the enemy still wants the Jews dead, our foe today does not want to assimilate us as did the Greeks. It isn’t interested in conquering us for trade routes and taxes as the Romans did. It does not like the Marxists present us with a political philosophy of atheistic principles to bend us to refuse and reject our faith. It is more akin to the challenge posed by the Nazis, to exterminate the Jewish people by first liquidating its territorial sovereignty and killing another 6 million Jews.
But to this fourth challenge, we have the light with which to answer those who seek our elimination. We have the light to blind our enemies, We have the light that shines brightly to blind them. We have the light, not to teach our ways to a world that has never wanted them, but the light to shine against them so we can survive.
The light unto the nations, the practice of bringing the truth about the meaning of freedom and liberty, the meaning if a lasting and just society-that light is the power of refusing to surrender to the forces of darkness and hatred that seek world domination today in the name of what might be the greatest challenge, not only to Jewish survival, but to the survival of Western civilization-the challenge of Islamist radicalism and Islamist terror.
Why else would G-d, who so loves His (or Her) people put them through such a history of evil doings and destruction? Why would G-d create an ancient world full of bloodthirsty pagans whose armies marched over and across this land bridge connecting two continents? Why did G-d send us death and despoilation over the known world? Why did G-d create the Inquisition, the autos-da-fe, blood libels, host desecration charges, pogroms, political Anti-Semitism and the horror of all horrors, the Holocaust?
Maybe He didn’t, but I say He did and for the most worthwhile reason of all-to teach us how to survive and how to show the world how to defeat the same nemesis we. the Israeli people, face today in Gaza. G-d made us stronger and tougher and made us believe in ourselves so that no nation could ever lift a claw against us and not pay the price-the light unto the enemy comes on the blast of bombs and shellfire. what didn’t destroy us, made us stronger.
Not only for our survival in this frightful bit of geography, but to light the way for others who stand for what we have provided and taught, to see the way to eliminate the enemies of all that is right and noble in humanity.
Israel is fighting on the battlefield for its right to live free and without fear and , if it is wise enough, if it is strong enough, if it keeps to those founding principles of the rights of man, that Moses received at the hand of G-d, then Israel will have fulfilled its duty in being the “or la goyim”, the “light unto the nations” if they are wise enough to follow our lead.
May our light burn bright for eternity and may it shine for all who trust in G-d and for all to whom freedom is what faith gives unto us all.