Spiritual Leaders for a Spiritual People in a Spiritual Land

Dear Friends,


As we have begun to discuss in this series, our task is to become a spiritual people composed of “kohanim” – ministers – that are dedicated to serving Hashem, the Compassionate and Life-Giving One, in all areas of our existence. Both our souls and our bodies are to be dedicated to this holy service, and through this holistic approach, our entire beings become holy. Hashem therefore proclaimed to our people at Mount Sinai:


“You shall be to Me a kingdom of Kohanim and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6).


Some of the sources we cited reveal that the Land of Israel is a “spiritual” land, for the Land was given to us for the fulfillment of the Torah; thus, we are to view this sacred land as “the Land of the Torah” (Kuzari 2:20). The Land of the Torah is to become a land of life, as our tradition refers to the Torah as “a tree of life” (Proverbs 3:18). The “branches” of this tree are the mitzvos of the Torah (Sefer Chareidim, 61). The mitzvos relate to all areas of life, and through fulfilling these mitzvos, we develop a holy, caring, and just society within the Land of Israel – one which can serve as an inspiring model for other peoples. Before we entered the Land, Moshe reminded us that the Land was given to us for this spiritual and universal purpose:


“See! I have taught you statutes and social laws, as Hashem, my God, has commanded me, to do so in the midst of the Land to which you come, to possess it. You shall safeguard and fulfill them, for it is your wisdom and understanding in the eyes of the peoples, who shall hear all these statutes and who shall say, ‘Surely a wise and understanding people is this great nation!’ ” (Deuteronomy 4:5, 6)


After we left Egypt, we journeyed through the wilderness, and on our way to the Promised Land, we received the Torah. During this journey, we had three spiritual leaders who were great teachers of Torah. 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, explains that these three prophets taught the mitzvos of the Torah to the people. Moshe and Aharon taught the men, and Miriam taught the women.


Moshe was our main spiritual teacher; thus, 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)


In this spirit, 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 a teaching which indicates that Joshua prepared himself for his role as a spiritual teacher and 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 the people of their spiritual responsibility, 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).


We find within the Torah various forms of spiritual leadership, including the leading Torah sages who served as judges, and the kings. 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)


When 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 sovereign and teacher whose spiritual leadership and 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 role 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. 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 Hashem as water covering the sea bed.” (11:6-9)


“It shall be on that day that the Master of All will once again show His hand, to acquire the remnant of His people...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.” (11:11, 12)


Have a Good and Comforting Shabbos,

Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen

Hazon - Our Universal Vision