Rediscovering Our Spiritual Identity

Dear Friends,


When we were still enslaved in Egypt, Hashem, the Compassionate and Life-Giving One, told Moshe to convey to us the following message regarding the initial four stages of the approaching redemption:


1. “I am Hashem, and I shall take you out from under the burdens of Egypt” (Exodus 6:6).


2. “I shall rescue you from their bondage” (ibid).


3. “I shall redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments” (ibid).


4. “I shall take you to Me for a people” (Exodus 6:7).


In his commentary on the Divine promise regarding the fourth stage of redemption, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch writes:


“When Hashem says, ‘I shall take you to Me for a people,’ it means: Your social lives are to be guided by My wisdom; your social lives are to be a revelation of My spirit.”


This Divine statement reveals our spiritual identity as the people of Hashem – a people whose social lives are to be guided by the Divine wisdom and thereby serve as a revelation of the Divine spirit.


After the Exodus from Egypt, we received the Torah – the Divine Teaching – at Mount Sinai. According to a number of biblical commentators, the Divine promise, “I shall take you to Me for a people,” is referring to our receiving the Torah. (Ibn Ezra, Sforno, Rabbeinu Bachya, and Ohr HaChaim)


We became Hashem’s people at Mount Sinai through receiving the Torah; moreover, we are to fulfill the precepts of the Torah in the Promised Land, as Moshe later proclaimed to our people: “See, I have taught you statutes and social laws which Hashem, my God, has commanded me, so that you may act accordingly in the midst of the Land” (Deuteronomy 4:5). It is therefore not surprising that the Divine promise, “I shall take you to Me for a people,” is followed by this Divine promise:


“I will bring you to the land about which I have raised My hand to give it to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and I shall give it to you as a heritage – I am Hashem.” (Exodus 6:8).


“After” we become the people of Hashem through receiving the Torah, we receive the Land which Hashem promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Our becoming the people of Hashem is therefore a prerequisite for receiving the Promised Land as a heritage to be passed on to all future generations.

The emergence of Israel as the people of Hashem is the beginning of an historical process which will lead to the spiritual elevation of all peoples. This universal goal is described in the following Divine message to Israel, whom Hashem addresses as “the daughter of Zion”:

“Sing and be glad, O daughter of Zion! For behold, I am coming, and I will dwell in your midst – spoke Hashem. Many nations will join themselves to Hashem on that day, and they will become a people unto Me, and I will dwell in your midst” (Zechariah 2:14,15).


Before we can attain the universal goal described in the above prophecy, we ourselves have to become Hashem’s people though fulfilling the Torah. As Rabbi Hirsch explains, the Divine statement, “I shall take you to Me for a people,” is expressing the ideal of the Torah and mitzvos which Hashem put before His redeemed people. Rabbi Hirsch reminds us that the attainment of this ideal is an ongoing process, and he writes:

“Jewish history serves as the educational process leading to this ideal. Through it one thing becomes certain: whether they remain faithful or they backslide on their way towards this ideal, whether they draw near or pull away, hesitate or persevere, ‘Hashem will never cast off His people nor will He forsake His inheritance’ (Psalm 94:14). Hashem will be with them through the centuries of trials and darkness, through pain and deprivation, until they reach their pinnacle of perfection, the goal set before them by the Torah, and the fullness of joy that it promises.” (The Hirsch Haggadah – Essay on the 4th Cup)

As an example of “backsliding” on the way to this ideal, Rabbi Hirsch writes: “We have shown, over and over again, that to be Hashem’s people does not quite satisfy us. We are still eying other nations, and their shimmering glamour has not yet lost its temptations for our hearts” (ibid).


During the late 19th century and early 20th century, there arose secular movements among our people, including the secular Zionist movement, which were drawn to the “shimmering glamour” of other nations, and they therefore rejected the idea that we have a special spiritual identity as the people of Hashem. An example of the secular Zionist approach can be found in the following statement of Jacob Klatzkin, a leading Zionist thinker, which is cited in “The Zionist Idea” by Arthur Hertzberg: 


“Let us be like all the nations!” (Introduction to “The Zionist Idea”)


In its chapter on Jacob Klatzkin, “The Zionist Idea” cites statements of this Zionist thinker which indicate that Zionism is opposed to those who believe that we have a spiritual identity, and these statements are followed by the following statement of Klatzkin:


“Zionism is opposed to all this. Its real beginning is the Jewish State and its basic intention, consciously and unconsciously, is to deny any conception of Jewish identity based on spiritual criteria.”


As a result of the influence of these secular Jewish movements, combined with the trend towards assimilation, the majority of our people lost the awareness that we are a spiritual people. For example, when I connected with spiritually-searching Jews of my generation from both the Diaspora and the Land of Israel, many were not even aware that they could search for spirituality within their own Jewish heritage, for they were under the impression that being Jewish was primarily an ethnic or nationalistic experience.


We therefore need to do a tikun – fixing – for this rejection of our spiritual identity, and the tikun begins by remembering that we are the people of Hashem. We can then renew this special relationship with the Compassionate and Life-Giving One through becoming a social model of the Divine teachings in the Land of Zion. In this way, the following Divine promise to the People of Zion regarding the renewal of this relationship will finally be fulfilled:


“And I have placed My words in your mouth, and with the shade of My hand I have covered you, to implant the heavens and to set a base for the earth and to say unto Zion, ‘You are My people!’ ” (Isaiah 51:16)



Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen  (See below)


Related Teachings and Comments:


1. In the messianic age, when all peoples will become Hashem’s people, we will still have a special role as “Kohanim” – ministers – who will serve as teachers to the peoples, as the Prophet Isaiah proclaimed to us regarding our role in this new age:


“You shall be called ‘Kohanim of Hashem’; ‘ministers of our God’ will be said of you.” (Isaiah 61:6)


The commentator, Sforno elaborates on this idea in his commentary on the following Divine call to our people at Mount Sinai: “And you shall be to Me a kingdom of Kohanim” (Exodus 19:6).


Sforno writes: “For you are to become a kingdom of Kohanim, to understand and to teach the entire human species that all shall call proclaim the Name of Hashem and serve Him with a united resolve. This shall be the role of Israel in the future, as it says, You shall be called Kohanim of Hashem (Isaiah 61:6), and as it says, For from Zion will go forth Torah (Isaiah 2:3).


2. The Hirsch Haggadah is published by Feldheim:


3. You are invited to visit the archive on our website and review some of the letters in this series. The following is a direct link to a letter which discusses why the modern Zionist movement failed to attract most of the Jewish spiritual seekers of my generation:


The Ambivalent Attitude towards Zion (with a moving personal story from Hazon participant, Joy Krauthammer):


A copy of this letter can also be sent to you upon request.

Hazon - Our Universal Vision