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Torah Attitude: Parashas Terumah: First in time, not in rank

Summary

Being G'd's chosen people has caused us a lot of envy and animosity throughout the generations. Abraham was called the Ivri which means "the one on the other side". The Jewish people constantly encounter a double standard and everyone expects us to be better. We express our double relationship with G'd many times throughout our daily prayers when we refer to G'd as "our Father, our King." We are the first nation that accepted G'd, not first in rank, but first in time. The great sage Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai was careful always to be the first one to greet Jew and gentile alike. We thank G'd for choosing the Jewish people to give us His Torah. We continue to express our fervent hope that the day will come when all the nations will join us and accept G'd as the One Sole G'd.

Envy and animosity

In the last two Torah Attitudes we discussed why G'd chose us, the Jewish people, and gave us His Torah. On the one hand, this is a tremendous privilege that we thank G'd for every day; but on the other hand, it has caused us a lot of envy and animosity throughout the generations. It has set us apart from the rest of the world, and, both as a nation and as individuals, we are always the odd one out. Paradoxically, this is often blended with a subtle admiration for our achievements in the business world, and our accomplishments in the sciences for the benefit of mankind in general.

The other side

All of this started in the time of our patriarchs. G'd already chose Abraham, as it says in the Book of Nehemiah (9:7): "You are HASHEM, G'd, Who chose Avram and established his name Abraham." Abraham was called the Ivri (see Bereishis 14:13). The Midrash Rabbah (42:8) teaches that this was not just because Abraham was a descendant of Ever, but because "ever" means "side" and Abraham was alone on "one side" in his belief in G'd, and his observance of the ways of G'd. The rest of the world was on the "other side" worshipping their idols and living a lifestyle very different than the one Abraham had accepted. Although Abraham was persecuted for his monotheistic belief by Nimrod and his cohorts, he eventually earned the respect of his contemporaries who referred to him as a prince of G'd (see Bereishis 23:6). Isaac, Abraham's son, also experienced the envy and animosity of the Philistines mixed with their admiration for his success (note: the Palestinians of modern day are not the descendants of the Philistines mentioned in the Torah).

Expect better

On top of all this, we find that the world sets a different standard when dealing with Jews. It makes no difference whether it is a single person, community or a whole country. Much to our frustration and irritation, we constantly encounter a double standard. This is comparable to my wife's experiences when she was a young student in the Jewish elementary school in Gateshead, England. My late father-in-law, Rabbi Shaul Wagschal, of blessed memory, was the founder and principal of the school, and the teachers would often say to my wife "from you I expected better." G'd is the Creator and Ruler of the entire world, and as such all of mankind are His subjects. However, we are not just His subjects, we are considered His children, as it says (Devarim 14:1): "You are children to HASHEM your G'd." As such, everyone expects us to be better.

Our Father our King

We express this double relationship with G'd many times throughout our daily prayers when we refer to G'd as "our Father, our King." Rabbi Avraham, the son of the Vilna Gaon, quotes from the Zohar that when we serve G'd and pray to him we are considered G'd's servants. However, when we study His Torah we become like His children with whom He is ready to share His secrets.

First in time

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsh states that, in truth, every human being has the potential to accept G'd and rise to the level of a child of G'd. He explains that this is why G'd refers to the Jewish people as "My firstborn" (see Shemos 4:22). We are the first nation that accepted G'd, not first in rank, but first in time. It is only because we do not consider ourselves first in rank that G'd was ready to choose us as His nation. As it says (Devarim 7:7): "G'd did not desire you and choose you because you are larger in numbers than the other nations, for you are the smallest in numbers of all the nations." Rashi quotes the Talmud (Chulin 89a) that interprets this verse as follows: "I chose you since you do not consider yourself larger [and better] than others when I bestow My goodness upon you. Rather, you hold yourself small [and insignificant] as Abraham who said (Bereishis 18:27): 'I am like dust and ash' and like Moses and Aaron who said (Shemos 16:7): 'What are we?'"

Greet alike

This is why the Talmud (Berachos 17a) encourages us to be respectful to every human being and emulate the great sage Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai who was careful always to be the first one to greet Jew and gentile alike.

Thank G'd

Every day we start our morning prayer with a number of blessings. In these blessings we thank G'd for all the lovingkindness that He bestows upon us, as individuals, as members of the Jewish people, and of mankind in general. We thank G'd for choosing the Jewish people to give us His Torah. On a personal level, we express our appreciation that we are born as Jews and not as gentiles, thus giving us the opportunity to fulfill any of the 613 commandments that apply to us and not merely the seven Noachide commandments given to the gentiles as well.

Sanctify in unison

At the end of every prayer we again thank G'd for setting us apart from all other nations and giving us the mission to serve Him through the commandments of the Torah. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsh points out that we continue to express our fervent hope that the day will come when all the nations will join us and accept G'd as the One Sole G'd. This will happen when Moshiach comes. He will restore G'd's kingdom upon earth and bring peace and prosperity to everyone. By then everyone will join to sanctify G'd's name in unison.

These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.

These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.

Shalom. Michael Deverett

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