The biblical term “chassidim” refers to those who serve Hashem, the Compassionate and Life-Giving One, with loving devotion. An example of this term appears in the following verse: “Sing to Hashem a new song; His praise is in the assembly of the chassidim” (Psalm 149:1).
According to our tradition, non-Jews can also become chassidim, and our sages teach:
“The chassidim among the nations have a share in the World to Come.” (Tosefta – Sanhedrin 13:1)
After I began teaching Torah via e-mail, I started to receive inspiring letters from a non-Jewish woman living in a Muslim country whose leaders were hostile to the Jewish people. She is a former Christian who is committed to the fulfillment of the Seven Mitzvos of the Children of Noah – the basic precepts of the Torah’s universal path for humankind. As we discussed in the previous letter – “Additional Mitzvos for Humankind” – there are sources within our tradition which indicate that this universal path also includes all the mitzvos of the Torah which can be understood by human reason. Included in this category are mitzvos regarding ethical behavior and speech, honoring parents, acts of loving-kindness, and tzedakah – the sharing of our resources with those in need.
This noble woman studies Torah teachings regarding the universal path for humankind, and her dedication to this study reminds me of the following teaching from the Talmud: A Gentile who studies the Torah in order to understand and fulfill its universal path is like a Kohen Gadol – a High Priest (Sanhedrin 59a). A noted commentator on the Talmud, Meiri, explains that the Talmud is calling on us to honor such a person as we would honor a Kohen Gadol.
In the spirit of the above teaching, I have attached the following excerpts from an article about this noble woman by Rabbi Avi Shafran which was sent to the Jewish media a few years ago:
A VIEW FROM AFAR
Rabbi Avi Shafran
To name the Muslim country where she lives would compromise her security; the authorities there do not look favorably on citizens who communicate with Jews. Her husband is a Hindu and she, although born a Christian, long ago abandoned her family’s religion and pledged herself to the Torah.
“Tehilla,” however, as I’ll call her, has not converted, and has no plans to convert. She and her two adult sons are “Noahides” – non-Jews who have come to the conclusion that the Jewish religious tradition is true and who have undertaken observance of the “seven laws of the children of Noah” – the basic moral precepts that Judaism prescribes for all of humanity…
There are Noahides in Australia, Asia, Europe and here in the United States (a good number of them, for some reason, in Tennessee, Georgia and Texas). Many face formidable societal obstacles, though Tehilla, considering where she lives, likely faces more than most.
“Tehilla,” which means “praise” in Hebrew, is an appropriate alias for someone so filled with admiration for the Jewish people. Her studies of Judaism over years, by internet and e-mail, and her interaction with various rabbis around the world, have endeared the Jewish people and the Jewish religion to her – and endeared her to her mentors. Jews, to be sure, are enjoined from proselytizing to non-Jews, but Tehilla is self-motivated (an understatement); those, like me, who correspond with her are simply answering her queries – and being inspired by her observations, rendered in fluent English.
Her empathy for Jews, especially in Israel, is deep. “I can imagine,” she writes, “their anguish every morning when they send their children to school, not knowing what might happen on the way...
“After meeting your people [by e-mail],” she once wrote, “I cannot understand how such a warm, compassionate and humane people can be so persecuted and so misunderstood.”
And, from other e-mails:
“One thing the mighty nations are not absorbing is history. Even if they don’t believe the Scriptures per se, history itself is proof enough that your nation’s survival is the living and continuous miracle personally brought about by G-d.”
“G-d will never allow you to fall, in the merit of your patriarchs and prophets… soon G-d is going to say ‘enough’ to your tears…”
“All I can pray is when Hashem decides it’s time for all your sufferings to be over, He will show us Gentiles the compassion we failed to show you all.”
Tehilla is not only an observer of history and the world around her but an example of commitment to self-betterment on a personal level. She keeps a picture of the Chofetz Chaim, the saintly scholar who died shortly before the Holocaust and who wrote definitive works on the laws of proper speech. She has studied his works because, as she once explained, “when I am angry I speak without thinking. The Chofetz Chaim has really changed my life and I am really trying to live up to his guidance.”
She is a charitable woman, as well, and personally cared for a dying relative by marriage who had for years ridiculed her for her choices.
“My sons and I are… trying our best to do our part for the needy,” she once explained.
And she looks forward to the Messiah’s arrival with eagerness: “The greatest blessing for believing Gentiles like us is to be able to live where we can study … without fear and acknowledge Hashem as the supreme G-d and you all as His chosen.”
In fact, Tehilla’s dedication to our people and our faith can sometimes sting, forcing her readers to recognize their own imperfect appreciation of their wonderful lot in life as Jews.
“It’s sad,” she once wrote, “that some of your people do not seem to understand or realize the special and holy heritage given to them for eternity, not something they can disown…”
Rabbi Avi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.
May Hashem bless and protect “Tehilla” and her sons. And may they and all of us soon experience the birth of the messianic age of universal enlightenment when, “Torah will go forth from Zion and the word of Hashem from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:3).
Have a Good, Sweet, and Strengthening Shabbos,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
the site of
in his code
at the site
of the altar
at the site
According to this tradition, all human beings have roots in the site of Zion’s Temple, for this is the place where the human being was created. This tradition therefore reveals that when all human beings will journey to the Temple – “a house of prayer for all the peoples” (Isaiah 56:6) – they will be journeying to the sacred place of their roots.