As we mentioned in the previous letter, the technological progress of humankind caused many people to develop absolute faith in human reason, power, and wealth. This was an age of increasing secularization; moreover, there arose secular Jewish movements which sought to deny our spiritual raison d’etre as the people of the Torah – the Divine Teaching. One of these movements was the World Zionist Organization. Over the objection of its religious members, this organization passed a resolution in 1911 which proclaimed, “Zionism has nothing to do with religion.” In addition, the W.Z.O. decided to develop schools and cultural programs which would accelerate the secularization of our people through stressing that a commitment to nationalism was our new raison d’etre. According to this ideology, we no longer had the unique mission to become a universal spiritual model of the Divine Teaching in the Land of Zion; instead, our primary goal was to become a nationalistic entity like all other nations through living in our own land and through speaking our own language. As we discussed in this series, this ideology greatly contributed to a spiritual “breakdown” of our people.
We also discussed how the movement of spiritual searching which began in the late 1960’s inspired many Jews to explore their own spiritual roots. This new and growing openness to spiritual teachings and metaphysical ideas has helped pave the way for the first stage of the tikun – fixing – of our spiritual breakdown. The first stage of our tikun is the awareness that we are the people of the Torah with a spiritual and universal mission that will be fulfilled in the Land of Zion. This first stage of our tikun has been the major theme of the previous letters in this series.
In this new letter of our series, we will begin to discuss the second stage of our tikun: the awareness that we are to be guided by spiritual leaders. Our spiritual leaders are those who recognize that our ultimate Leader is Hashem, the Compassionate and Life-Giving One. They also recognize that Hashem, our Leader, is also our Teacher. In this spirit, Jewish men and women proclaim each morning:
“Blessed are You Hashem, Who teaches Torah to His people, Israel.”
As we began our journey from Egypt to Mount Sinai, Hashem gave us three great spiritual leaders. They are mentioned in the following Divine message which appears in the Book of Micah (6:4):
“For I have brought you up from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of bondage; and I sent Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam before you.”
The commentator, Ibn Ezra, mentions that these three leaders also taught the mitzvos to the people. He writes that Moshe and Aharon taught the men, and Miriam taught the women.
These three leaders therefore served as spiritual teachers. The Torah indicates that Moshe was our main teacher, as it is written, “The Torah that Moshe commanded us is the heritage of the Community of Jacob” (Deuteronomy 33:4). This is why Moshe is known in our tradition as, “Moshe Rebbeinu” – Moses, our Teacher. Moshe describes his spiritual role in the following statement to his father-in-law, Yisro:
“The people come to me to seek God. Whenever they have a concern, they come to me. I must judge between a person and his neighbor. I must make known the statutes of God and His teachings.” (Exodus 18:15, 16)
Our leaders are required to study and fulfill the Torah; thus, Hashem gave Joshua, the successor of Moshe, the following message before the people crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land:
“This Book of the Torah shall not depart from your mouth; rather you should contemplate it day and night in order that you observe to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way successful, and then you will act wisely. (Joshua 1:8)
The Talmud (Menachos 99b) cites an ancient teaching which indicates that Joshua prepared himself for his role as a leader through the constant study of Torah in the Tent of Meeting during the period in the wilderness when he served his teacher, Moshe. According to the Talmud, an allusion to the constant study of Joshua is found in the following phrase from the Book of Exodus:
“His young attendant, Joshua, the son of Nun, would not depart from the tent” (Exodus 33:11).
When Joshua became very old, he reminded our people of our spiritual raison d’etre, and he proclaimed:
“Strengthen yourselves very much to guard and to fulfill all which is written in the Book of the Torah of Moshe” (Joshua 23:6).
The leading sages of our people served as spiritual leaders and judges; however, the kings also had an important spiritual role. According to the Torah, a king must subordinate himself to the sacred mandates of the Torah; moreover, he must strengthen the bond of the people with the Torah. To remind the king of this spiritual responsibility, the king has a mitzvah to write for himself a Torah scroll to be constantly by his side, as it is written:
“And when he sits upon the throne of his sovereignty, he shall write for himself a duplicate of this Torah, in a scroll, out of the one that is in the custody of the Kohanim, the Levites. It shall be with him, and he shall read from it all the days of his life, so that he may learn to revere Hashem, his God, to conscientiously fulfill all the words of this Teaching and all its laws.” (Deuteronomy 17:18, 19)
In his commentary on the phrase, “All the words of this Teaching,” Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch writes:
“This refers to the whole historical and instructive contents of the Torah: From the Torah the king of Israel shall learn the nation’s historical position and destiny, as well as the individual’s relationship to the nation’s mission. All of these he shall understand with equal clarity, and he shall work constantly toward their full realization.”
King David serves an example of a king of Israel who was aware of this spiritual responsibility; thus, he proclaimed to Hashem:
“I will safeguard your Torah constantly, forever and ever. And I will walk in broad pathways, for I have sought Your precepts. I will speak of your testimonies before kings and will not be ashamed. I will be joyfully preoccupied with your mitzvos which I have come to love.” (Psalm 119:44-47)
King David therefore devoted himself to Torah study, as he proclaimed to Hashem:
“O how I love Your Torah! All day long it is my conversation.” (119:97)
King David acknowledged that Hashem was his Teacher; thus, he prayed:
“Blessed are You, Hashem; teach me Your statutes.” (119:12)
When King David was about to leave this world, he gave over to his son, Solomon, the following mandate regarding Solomon’s spiritual responsibility as the next king of Israel:
“Safeguard the charge of Hashem, your God, to walk in his ways, to conscientiously keep His statutes, mitzvos, social laws, and testimonies, as written in the Torah of Moshe, so that you will succeed in all that you do and wherever you turn.” (1 Kings 2:3)
Our Sacred Scriptures reveal that the Messiah will be a great spiritual leader and teacher whose leadership and Torah teachings will inaugurate an age of universal enlightenment, unity, and shalom. Some people have difficulty imagining that one person could become the Messiah and cause a radical change in the world. The late Rabbi Aryeh Carmell was a noted Torah educator who had an inspiring influence on my life, and he addressed this issue in the following passage from an essay titled, “Judaism and the Environment,” which appears in the book, Encounter” (Feldheim Publishers):
“In modern times, many of the most far-reaching revolutions in thought have been sparked off by Jews: Einstein, Freud, Marx; though all these were far from the Torah tradition. Would it be so far-fetched to think of the coming revolution of the spirit as led by a dynamic personality, steeped, this time, in the spiritual truths of the Torah – with a releasing vision much profounder than Freud’s, with revolutionary ideals much more radical than Marx’s, and with the means at his disposal to swing the world from the dark nightmare of a polluted planet to a brighter future of spiritual creativity?”
I will conclude this letter with the following excerpts from Isaiah’s famous prophecy regarding the arrival of the Messiah, a descendant of King David, the son of Jesse:
“A staff will emerge from the stump of Jesse, and a shoot will sprout from his roots. The spirit of Hashem will rest upon him – a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of counsel and strength, a spirit of knowledge and reverence for Hashem.” (Isaiah 11:1, 2)
“He will judge the destitute with righteousness, and decide with fairness for the humble of the earth.” (11:4)
“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.” (11:6)
“They will neither injure nor destroy in all of My sacred mountain; for the earth will be filled with knowledge of Hashem as water covering the sea bed.” (11:9)
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen