The Blessings of the Shema (Part 7)
"The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched
– they must be felt with the heart."
The second blessing continues: “Bring us in peace from the four corners of the earth and lead us with upright pride to our Land. For You effect salvations…You have chosen us from among every nation and every language.”
One of the basic prerequisites for the Messianic era is the ingathering of the Jewish People from the “four corners of the earth.” The Torah declares categorically (Devarim 30:3-5), “…[G-d] will gather you in from all the peoples to which
When the time is right,
When a respected Rabbi in Romania decided to live out the rest of his days in Israel, he was asked why he didn’t just wait for the Messiah, and only afterwards go to Israel. He answered that he preferred to be found by the Messiah immediately in Jerusalem, rather than have him look all over for him in Bucharest!
Why does the blessing add the words, “and every language” if it has already stated that we have been chosen from every nation? Each nation has its own distinctive language, even when it is ostensibly the same language as another nation. Or, as Winston Churchill, the legendary Second World War Prime Minister of Great Britain was purported to have said about England and America: “They are two nations divided by a common language.” What, then, are the words “and every language” adding to our understanding of the blessing? According to some of the commentaries, the difference is quite intriguing. The word “nation” is a reference to its physical nature, whereas “language” is a reference to its spiritual character. According to this interpretation we are emphasizing the fact that it is not enough that we — the Jewish Nation — are spiritually different from everyone else, but that we must remain physically different from the other nations as well. How do those differences manifest themselves? The spiritual differences should be heard through the way that we express ourselves. By avoiding offensive and hurtful speech and by being extremely vigilant to not insult someone even inadvertently. The physical differences can be seen by dressing in a way that is identifiably Jewish.
Another possible explanation is that “language” is alluding to foreign cultures. One of the most basic dimensions of nationhood is the unique culture each nation possesses. In many respects, it is the culture of each nation that differentiates it from its neighbor. Historically, it does not take too long for those settling into a new country to adopt its cultural mores. Sometimes it takes just one generation, sometimes two or three, but at some point the new citizens become culturally indistinguishable from their fellow compatriots. This is the way of the world and it makes perfect sense that it should be like this. In order for immigrants to establish themselves in their new country, they must adapt their national values to fit those of their newfound homeland. The only possible drawback to this process is that, by doing so, their original national identity is being supplanted by that of the country they have relocated to. For a new citizen, it might be a sad moment when they finally let go of their previous national identity, but it is also thrilling to know that they have begun the process of integrating into their new place of residence. But for the Jewish People it is not a “sad moment.” Rather, it is a devastating tragedy, because we are not supposed to integrate into other societies. We are commanded to retain our identity as Jews regardless of where we find ourselves.
Sometimes it can be overwhelmingly difficult to identify as a Jew — especially if it might come at the price of one’s life. Rabbi Moshe Aharon Stern (1926-1998), revered spiritual mentor to thousands and the Mashgiach of the Kamenitz Yeshiva in Jerusalem, would tell over a true story that happened during the Bolshevik revolution. As has almost always been the case during wartime, the Jews were on the wrong side. When the Red Army swept through an area, the Jews were accused of being royalists and they were killed. On the other hand, when the White Army seized control, they accused the Jews of being Bolsheviks and murdered them indiscriminately. Once, the Bolsheviks reached a certain town and immediately rounded up all the Jews with the intention of lining them up against a wall to shoot them. There were three hundred Jews reciting the Shema in anticipation of their death at the hands of the Bolsheviks.
As the Bolsheviks waited for the order to fire, the town pharmacist, who was the only person in the whole area with any medical knowledge, came rushing up to the commanding officer and asked what was going on. On being told that the town’s Jewish population was going to be massacred, he stepped forward and told the commanding officer that he too was Jewish, and if they were planning on murdering every single Jew, he demanded to be included with them. On hearing this, the commander was dumbfounded. In all the years that the commanding officer had known the pharmacist, he had never shown any affinity to Judaism. In fact, no one had even the slightest clue that he was Jewish. And now, all of a sudden, it transpired that the one and only person who had any medical know-how was Jewish. What a dilemma! On the one hand, he desperately wanted to kill all the Jews, but on the other hand the pharmacist was the only one who was able to treat his wounded soldiers. In the end, left with no other alternative, the pharmacist and his three hundred “brothers” were left alive.
To be continued…