Wednesday, December 06, 2006

In Baltimore as it Is in Heaven II

My last post on the then-impending anniversary of Dorothy Day's death brought to mind other ways in which the acts of noble non-Jews might be understood in a Torah framework. In the interest of spreading some Torah...and letting people know I wasn't just pulling those 'kind words' out of my tukes...I offer the following (most all emphasis mine);

"We find that many of the pious [of the nations] did more than recognize the Creator, and believe in the divine revelation of Torah, and perform acts of kindness to the Jewish people, but also conferred benefit on humanity as a whole. Among them were [Edward] Jenner who discovered [smallpox] vaccine, thus saving tens of thousands of people from sickness, death and disfigurement; [Sir Francis] Drake who brought the potato to Europe, thus mitigating famine on several occasions; and [Johannes] Gutenberg who invented printing. Some of them were not rewarded in this world at all, like [Johannes] Reuchlin who risked death to prevent the burning of Talmuds . . . and died, heartbroken, in poverty. Is it possible to imagine that these great deeds went unrewarded in the world to come. G-d forbid! Surely we know that the Holy One, blessed be He, does not withhold the reward of any creature . . . The advantage of the [other] nations over Israel is that they, through their own free choice and efforts made themselves – and this is certainly a greater [human] achievement than Israel, who were led toward perfection by the force of G-d and who therefore cannot claim the credit for what G-d did for them in the merit of their ancestors." Tiferet Israel to Avot 3:14

I think it's clear that the "[other] nations over Israel" part refers to individuals, as previously only individuals from among the nations were given as examples, and not to nations as such in their collective capacity. It is noted in our literature that individuals 'began' with Adam, were nations began with Bavel. I have only really seen this unpacked in Derech Hashem (which among the kabbalistic works, says that non-Jews do have Neshamah - worthy of note, because it is not a position held by all...). It has been infamously, and selectively, quoted by Rav Kook that;

"The difference between the Jewish soul, its self, its inner desires...and that of all nations, at all their levels, is greater and deeper than the difference betwee the human soul and that of the animal; between the later there is merely a quantitiative distinction, between the former an essential qualitative distinction pertains" (Orot, p.156)

However, extensively in Orot, distinctions were drawn specifically between individuals and collectives. Rav Kook on the nations, Israel and the individual;

"The relation of Knesset Israel to its members is different from the relations of any other national group to its members. all national collectives give their members only the external aspect of their nature, but this essence each man draws from the universal neshamah, from the divine neshamah, without the mediation of the group, because the [national] group has no divine entity, meaning an inherent divine tendency diffused in its midst. Not so in Israel, the neshamah of the individuals derives from the source of the Eternal living in the general treasure, and the totality gives neshamah to the individuals." (Orot pp.144-5)

From his letters;

"I have already written in my letters that from the perspective of select individuals we know no distinction between peoples and languages and 'an alien who studies Torah is like a high priest'. Our early sages have already said, 'let us receive our colleague the philosopher.'" Igrot HaReAYaH, vol. 1, pp.70-1).

Translations are from R. Shalom Carmy, in an essay by R. Yoel Ben-Nun, "Nationalism, Humanity, and Knesset Yisrael", The World of Rav Kook's Thought, (U.S.; Avi Chai, 1991), which is a highly recommended, as well as this piece by Yaakov David Shulman


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