All that the Holy One, Blessed is He, created in His world, He created solely for His honor, as it states: “All that is called by My name, it is for My glory, and I have created it, formed it, and made it” (Yeshayahu 43:7). And it says: “G-d shall reign for all eternity” (Shemot 15:18). (Avot 6:11)
As we saw last week, Pirkei Avot teaches that the world was created for the glory of G-d. Though the whole universe proclaims this notion, man is created with a unique ability to appreciate this. After the failures and challenges of humanity’s first generations, Avraham Avinu emerges as the one who recognizes this calling. This is the backdrop to the purpose and mission of the Jewish people.
The Medrash (Rabbah Bamidbar 5:6) learns from an additional verse (that appears in the same perek of Yeshayahu mentioned above) that the Jewish people were created in order to sing Hashem’s praises. The Medrash takes this further by asserting that the Jewish people themselves embody G-d’s glory, and that one of the purposes of their galut is to spread G-d’s word throughout the world.
This explains why the Jewish people are so central to the world’s creation and continued existence. Rashi (Bereishit 1:1, quoting the Medrash) derives this idea from the Torah’s very first word – Bereishit. Rashi explains that the word teaches us that the world was created for those called reishit –the Torah and the Jewish people. Since the world’s raison d’etre is to honor Hashem, it focuses on Am Yisrael, who learn Torah and affirm Hashem’s honor by living Torah-inspired lives.
The Netziv (Ha’emek Davar, Introduction to Shemot) uses creation’s focus on the Jews’ learning Torah to explain the Behag’s definition of Sefer Shemot as “Sefer Hasheni.” Why would Shemot be described as a continuation of Sefer Bereishit and not given its own independent identity? The Netziv explains that the name reflects the fact that creation, and thereby Sefer Bereishit, were not completed until the Jewish people received the Torah in the book of Shemot, which is the completion and thus the continuation of Sefer Bereishit.
Our Role: Kiddush Hashem
This helps explain the centrality of kiddush Hashem (sanctification of G-d’s name) and the severity of chillul Hashem (desecration of His name). Like the prohibition against idolatry, chillul Hashem is one of the few aveirot we are commanded to avoid even at the cost of our lives. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 107a) teaches that chillul Hashem is even more severe than avodah zarah. “Better for a person to serve avodah zarah than to desecrate the name of G-d.” The Sefer HaChinuch (296:2) explains that “the root of this commandment is well-known: man was created only to serve his Creator.”
This beautifully explains why, in the “Al Hanisim” prayer recited on Chanukah, we say “And You made Yourself a great and sanctified name in Your world” before “And for Your people, Yisrael, You performed a great deliverance and redemption unto this very day.” One would have expected the order of these phrases to be reversed: First mention the salvation of Klal Yisrael, and then kiddush Hashem. The order teaches that kiddush Hashem is of greater importance than our own salvation.
This is also how the Medrash explains why the Jewish people are eternal. Based on another verse in Yeshayahu (48:11), the Medrash teaches that just as Hashem is eternal, so too are the Jewish people who proclaim His glory and sing His praises eternal (Medrash Rabbah Bamidbar 5:6).
Yechezkel Hanavi builds off this idea regarding both the Jewish people’s past and their future, describing how, even though the Jews were not worthy of redemption, Hashem took them out of Mitzrayim in order to avoid a chillul Hashem (Yechezkel 20:9). Similarly, even when the Jews continued rebelling against Him in the desert, Hashem maintained a relationship with them – again, in order to avoid a chillul Hashem (20:14).
Yechezkel Hanavi also speaks about the great chillul Hashem generated by the Jewish people being in galut. The central goal of the eventual redemption is to counteract this chillul Hashem with a bigger kiddush Hashem (Yechezkel 36:20-26).
Our definition and mission as a people created to sing Hashem’s praises is meant to unify all Jews. Rav Kook very powerfully writes about how shalom and achdut can be rooted either in simple utilitarian goals of wanting to be able to function together as a society, or, ideally, in the sharing of common goals (Olat Hareiyah, Likutim pg. 247). When it is the former, the achdut lasts only as long as the utilitarian benefits apply. When peace and unity are motivated by shared goals, they can truly be long lasting. The book of Amos describes the Jewish people as “Hashem’s group (that he founded) on Earth” (9:6). We should aim to foster unity through our shared mission, seeing ourselves as equal members of Hashem’s “team.” This achdut is not just an ideal; it is a mitzvah. Chazal (Sifri, Re’eh piska 44) employ Amos’s words as the philosophical (and textual) basis of the prohibition against our dividing into separate groups. Our view of ourselves as Hashem’s people should keep us from subdividing.
This is the logic behind the famous Medrash (Vayikra Rabbah 4:6) that compares the Jewish people, when divided, to an individual who drills a hole under his own seat on the boat he shares with others. We, the Jewish people, have a shared mission of highlighting the glory of G-d in the world; we should all be working on this together, unified as one.
Ideally, this mission should unify not only all Jews, but also all humanity. Based on our Mishnah, the Ramchal (Da’at Tevunot 125-126) posits that when each part of G-d’s world properly fulfills its purpose and mission, it connects with the rest of the universe as one entity totally focused on appreciating and celebrating G-d’s presence in our world.
The Jewish people are meant to inspire all of humanity to recognize this common goal. Tzefanya (3:9) speaks about how Hashem will eventually bring the whole world to “clearly invoke Hashem’s name and serve Him together.” Tzefanya’s language calls to mind the Torah’s description of the builders of the tower of Bavel. They too were unified, but their goal was glorifying their own name. Eventually, the world will be unified in celebrating Hashem’s name as one.
This is the vision we speak about in the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur tefillot: the day when all of humanity “will form a single band to do Your (Hashem’s) will with a perfect heart.”
May we, the Jewish people, use our shared purpose to unify ourselves, and subsequently all mankind, and highlight G-d’s glory in the world – together.