The articles in this column are transcriptions and adaptations of shiurim by Rav Joseph Ber Soloveitchik, zt”l. The Rav’s unique perspective on Chumash permeated many of the shiurim and lectures he presented at various venues over a 40-plus-year period. His words add an important perspective that makes the Chumash in particular, and our tradition in general, vibrant and relevant to our generation.
This week marks the third yahrzeit of our father, Rabbi Dr. Chaim Zev Bomzer, zt”l, B”H, our family has merited to have several great grandchildren bearing his name. How bittersweet that they did not meet him but they will carry on his legacy. My father-in-law understood the idea of cosmic and prophetic revelation very well. He lived his life as an example, to Jews and Gentile alike, of how to serve G-d through teaching Torah, performing kindness, and charity. He also exemplified the prophetic dimension in his concern and devotion to G-d, family, Am Yisrael, Eretz Yisrael, v’Torat Yisrael. His loss is still acutely felt by his ayshet chayil, Rebetzin Leona Bomzer, myself, my wife, Tzipporah, her siblings, and our extended family. T’hay Nafsho Tzrurah B’tzror HaChaim.
G-d informed Moses that the Jewish people would be an Am Segula M’Kal HaAmim, cherished among the nations. Later He told him they will be a Mamlechet Kohanim V’Goy Kadosh, priestly kingdom and holy nation. What is the difference between these titles? There are two recorded acceptances of the Torah, at the conclusions both of Parshat Yitro and Parshat Mishpatim. In the latter, the prohibition against ascending the mountain was lifted and Moses was accompanied up the mountain by Aaron and the elders. The elders ate, drank, and beheld G-d. Why were there multiple acceptances of the Torah and what is the significance of the story of the elders?
G-d reveals Himself to man in two distinct ways. The first is cosmic revelation, through creation and Maasay Breishis. The second is through the supernatural, the miraculous. Initially, G-d promised Moses that He would reveal Himself through cosmic revelation. B’nai Yisrael would be treated as the best among the nations of the world. However, this form of revelation would not engender any major distinction or separation between us and the other nations. To be the best among a marginal group is not necessarily a great accomplishment. (The Kelmer Maggid asked what is Gog and Magog? He answered that the Hebrew letters G’v’g stands for Ganiv V’Gazlan. If so, what does Magog mean? Mer Ganiv V’Gazlan, a bigger thief than Gog.) The second promise of V’Atem Tihyu Li Mamleches Kohanim V’Goy Kadosh, came after the Jews accepted the Torah. G-d decreed that He wanted to elevate them to a higher level than Segula M’Kal HaAmim. That would be accomplished through a second type of revelation, a prophecy, truly separating the Jewish people from the other nations.
The obligation to perform Mitzvot is a fundamental enabler for the Divine Countenance in this world. Shechina was never removed from the nations of the world, for otherwise the world could not exist. Where the other nations have 7 Noachide commandments, the Jew observes 613. Prior to receiving the Torah, G-d promised that accepting the vastly greater number of commandments would cause Shechina to relate to the Jews in a similar, though more favorable, way relative to the other nations. After receiving the Torah, G-d offered the Jews a second possibility, to strive to attain prophecy and thereby demonstrate a real separation between the Jews and other nations. Declaring someone the best is a subjective, comparative statement of value and importance, but when we say that someone is different, it is no longer a subjective evaluation. The promise of Segula from the other nations means that despite our relative incremental worth, we still share the same destiny as the other nations. The promise of priestly kingdom and holy nation means we will have a separate revelation and distinct destiny from the other nations. There will no longer be a basis of comparison.