Rav Shimshon Raphael once said, “Judaism founded by God, is, in no wise, a religion” as “the idea of Judaism is something infinitely broader and different” (Shemot 6:7). These statements are difficult to understand, as we look at ourselves as a model religion. How can we be a light unto the other nations if we are in a separate category altogether? In addition, if we are not a religion what are we?
“While other nations have their national bond in their country, the Jewish nation has theirs in their common God”.
In Parashat Va’eira, we are introduced to the famous four phrases of redemption that Hashem promises to Bnei Yisrael: “I will bring you out…deliver you… redeem you …take you to me”. While each phrase has its own importance, I would like to focus on when Hashem said, “I will take you to me for a nation, I will be to you a God” (ibid.). As opposed to Hashem simply taking us out of slavery, or redeeming us, which seems somewhat deserved considering our situation, “take you to me” seems more intimate. We sing every Pesach that from Yetziat Mitztrayim all the way to Yerushalayim, each stage would have been enough. Therefore, simply being taken out of Mitzrayim would have been sufficient; we did not need to be Hashem’s personal nation.
Rav Hirsch explains that this is why we are different than all other peoples. “While other nations have their national bond in their country, the Jewish nation has theirs in their common God”. Hashem did not base Judaism off of churches, kings, priests, etc. Instead, he specifically chose us to be His nation. All other religions can point to how they originated. Christians identify Jesus as their founder while Mohammed is the founder of Islam. What makes Judaism unique is that God Himself founded it.
According to Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi, the author of the Kuzari, a result of this inherited divine influence is a sort of dependence on Hashem. The Jewish people acknowledge that Hashem, not kings not presidents, rules the world and everything goes back to Him. In other words, since Hashem brought us to Him, we are considered soldiers in God’s army, as my father so eloquently wrote in my Bar Mitzvah speech.
Rav Hirsch believes this pasuk is so important, as “the whole destiny of Israel is expressed” here. Rav Hirsch then details a common phenomenon that occurs when people look at the Jewish people:
“People thoughtlessly choose to include what they so unfittingly call ‘the Jewish religion’ in the category of…a kind of religion, and then afterwards they are surprised to find so much within the purlieus of this ‘religion’, which lies quite outside the sphere of ordinary ‘religions’”.
With the inspiration that Rav Hirsch draws from this pasuk, hopefully we can rejoice in the fact that Hashem singled us out to be His own people.
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