This letter contains Jewish teachings about a better world, and it is dedicated to the memory of Eliyahu Asheri, a yeshiva student who was recently murdered by terrorists. May the family be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.
The Rainbow People: Part Three
According to the Divine plan, one of the ways in which we become a rainbow people is through converts, and in the ideal situation, we are to attract these converts through developing a model Torah society in the Land of Israel, with Jerusalem serving as its unifying spiritual center. As a result, there will be no need to go into exile in order to attract converts. For example, we have a tradition that when Moses blessed the tribes of Israel before they entered the Promised Land, he foretold that through their dedication to the Torah, they will inspire visitors from other lands to become converts. This tradition is cited in a midrashic commentary known as the Sifri in its explanation on the following blessing that Moses gave to the tribes of Zevulun and Yissachar:
“They shall call peoples to the mountain; there they shall offer offerings of tzedek.” (Deuteronomy 33:19)
Who are the “peoples” that will be called to the mountain? Rashi, based on the Sifri, explains that Zevulun - a tribe engaged in maritime commerce - would attract merchants from other lands to visit the Land of Israel. These merchants will then say to each other: “Since we have already taken the trouble to come this far, let us continue to Jerusalem and see what divinity is worshiped by this nation and what are the deeds of this nation.” When they come to Jerusalem, they will notice how all the diverse tribes of Israel are united through their belief in one God and through their devotion to one path; as a result, they will be inspired to convert, and they will offer offerings of tzedek" on the Mountain of the Compassionate One. As we explained previously, “tzedek” is the Divine plan whereby each creature is entitled to receive the nurturing and protection it needs in order to fulfill its purpose within the creation.
The Vilna Gaon, a noted sage of the 18th century, explains that the phrase “offerings of tzedek” refers to the offerings brought by converts, since Jewish tradition calls a convert a “ger tzedek” - a convert for tzedek. This term indicates that the convert, who accepts the path of mitzvos, is committed to the Torah’s path of tzedek, as it is written:
"My tongue shall proclaim Your word, for all your mitzvos are tzedek." (Psalm 119:172).
In what way are all the mitzvos a form of tzedek? An answer can be found in Rabbi Hirsch’s classical work on the mitzvos, “Horeb” (chapter 44). Rabbi Hirsch explains that some of the mitzvos are acts of tzedek to human beings, while other mitzvos are acts of tzedek towards the living creatures of the earth and the earth itself. In addition, there are mitzvos which teach us how to do acts of tzedek to ourselves by nurturing our bodies and souls. The mitzvos of the Torah known as “Mitzvos Lo Sa’Asay” - Divine prohibitions - also express the principle of tzedek, since they prevent us from acting unjustly towards any of the above through words or deeds.
It is also part of the Divine plan that the Messiah, who will inaugurate an age of universal tzedek, will be a descendant of a convert. This is revealed in the “Book of Ruth” - the story of the Moabite woman, Ruth, who joined the People of Israel through accepting the Covenant of Torah and its path of 613 mitzvos. The Book of Ruth describes how she left her homeland and accompanied her mother-in-law, Naomi, to the Land of Israel. At the beginning of her journey, she said to Naomi, “Your people are my people, and your God is my God” (Ruth 1:16). She eventually married Boaz, a judge from the Tribe of Judah who was one of the leading sages of Israel. As a result of her spiritual courage and devotion, she merited to become the great-grandmother of King David. When the son of Boaz and Ruth was born, it states: “They named him Oved; he was the father of Jesse, the father of David” (Ruth 4:17).
And from David will emerge the Messiah who will inaugurate a new age of enlightenment and peace for Israel, humankind, and all creatures. The following moving description of this new age and the role of the Messiah is found in Chapter 11 of the Book of Isaiah:
“A staff will emerge from the stump of Jesse (the father of David), and a shoot will sprout from his roots. The spirit of the Compassionate One will rest upon Him - a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of counsel and strength, a spirit of knowledge and reverence for the Compassionate One. He will be imbued with a spirit of reverence for the Compassionate One; and he will not need to judge by what his eyes see nor decide by what his ears hear. He will judge the destitute with tzedek, and decide with fairness for the humble of the earth. He will strike the world with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Tzedek will be the girdle round his loins, and faith will be the girdle round his waist. The wolf will live with the sheep, and the leopard will lie down with the kid; and a calf, a lion whelp and a fatling together, and a young child will lead them. A cow and bear will graze and their young will lie down together; and a lion, like cattle, will eat hay. A suckling will play by a viper's hole; and a newly weaned child will stretch his hand towards an adder's lair. They will neither injure nor destroy in all of My sacred mountain; for the earth will be filled with knowledge of the Compassionate One as water covering the sea bed. It shall be on that day that the descendant of Jesse - who stands as a rallying banner for the peoples - to him shall the nations inquire, and his peace shall be with honor. It shall be on that day that the Master of all will once again show His hand, to acquire the remnant of His people who will have remained...He will raise a banner for the nations, and assemble the castaways of Israel; and He will gather in the dispersed ones of Judah from the four corners of the earth.”
“He will strike the world with the rod of his mouth” - with the strength of his Torah teachings (Commentary of Rabbi S.R. Hirsch).
The above verses describe an age of universal enlightenment and peace under the leadership of the Messiah; moreover, there will be an ingathering of the exiles of our people. We are therefore awaiting the true Messiah, who will fulfill all these prophecies.
Why, however, did the God of history arrange that the Messiah - who will lead Israel and the nations - descend from a union between a righteous convert from Moab and a sage of Israel? Our finite minds cannot fully comprehend the profound and mysterious ways of the Infinite One; yet, the following idea can perhaps be the beginning of an answer: In order for the Messiah to lead Israel and the nations, he needs to have roots in both Israel and the nations. Boaz represented the spiritual potential of Israel, and Ruth represented the spiritual potential of the nations; thus, from their union will emerge the one who will elevate and unify Israel and the nations.
May we be blessed with a healing and comforting Shabbos.
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen