According to our tradition, the number “seventy” represents the diversity within the Divine creation, and the seventy primary nations that emerged from Noah are one manifestation of this diversity. The People of Israel, however, are not counted among the seventy nations that were already in existence before our people were born. Instead of being one of seventy, we were given the universal role of serving as a rainbow nation that would include the seventy diverse traits within the Divine creation. A source for this idea can be found in the following teaching from the Midrash:
The Holy One, Blessed be He, has seventy names; Israel has seventy names; the Torah has seventy names; Jerusalem has seventy names (Numbers Rabbah 14:12).
We are the rainbow nation with seventy names who are to serve the Holy One with seventy names through fulfilling the Torah with seventy names; moreover, our spiritual center - Jerusalem – has seventy names. Our mission is therefore a unifying one, as the great classic of Jewish mysticism, the Zohar, states:
“Just as He is One, so is Israel one. Just as His Name is One, but detailed in seventy, so is Israel one, but detailed in seventy” (Zohar, Exodus 16b)
We are one nation, but detailed in seventy. It is therefore relevant to mention that our collective journey began with our “seventy” ancestors who descended into Egypt, as it is written, “All the souls of Jacob’s household who came into Egypt were seventy” (Genesis 46:27). It is also written: “All the persons who emerged from Jacob’s loins were seventy souls” (Exodus 1:5).
As we discussed in this series, our collective journey represents the human journey. In this spirit, our tradition teaches that the God of history formed seventy distinct nations that correspond to our seventy ancestors. A reference to this teaching can be found in the following instructions that Moses gave to our nation before we entered the Promised Land:
“Remember the days of old, understand the years of the generations. Ask your father, and he will recount it to you, your elders and they will tell you. When the Supreme One gave the nations their portion, when He separated the children of Adam, He set the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the Children of Israel.” (Deuteronomy 32:7,8).
“He set the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the Children of Israel” – The seventy peoples, characterized by seventy languages, correspond to the seventy souls of the Children of Israel who went down to Israel. (Rashi, Targum Yonasan)
Rashi also explains that the “father” and elders” mentioned in the above verse are metaphors for our prophets and sages. These spiritual leaders are to remind us that the seventy primary peoples of the earth correspond to the seventy root members of Klal Yisrael – the Community of Israel. Why is it so important for us to remember this connection? I found a fascinating answer in the teachings of Rabbi Shmuel Bornstein, a noted Chassidic sage of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He was the Rebbe of Sochaczev, and he was known by the name of his great work, Shem MiShmuel. Within this work, he writes: “The correspondence between the seventy souls of Yisrael and the seventy nations of the world is very important in Jewish thought” (Shem MiShmuel). And he adds the following mystical insights:
1. “The idea here is that each primary world nation corresponded to one root member of Klal Yisrael. If that member of the klal correctly and fully maximized his spiritual potential, he had the ability to rectify his corresponding nation.”
2. “As history wore on, these seventy nations became a multitude of peoples across the globe, and in correspondence with this, Klal Yisrael grew from seventy members to an entire people. The details of the relationship between the members of Klal Yisrael and the other nations became much more complex. The soul of each member of Klal Yisrael was now linked to dozens or hundreds of non-Jewish nations. Thus the act of every Jew affects not only himself and his nation, but, in no small part, the spiritual welfare of many people and nations throughout the world…This is an awesome responsibility, one which we should remember whenever possible.”
Rabbi David Feinstein, a noted contemporary sage, offers another, related reason as to why the seventy nations correspond to the seventy root members of Klal Yisrael: The Creator implanted the seventy diverse characteristics of the seventy nations within Klal Yisrael, for we are to serve as a model for the seventy nations by demonstrating that each of these characteristics can be used for holy purposes. We accomplish this goal through living the Torah, as the seventy aspects of the Torah parallel the seventy nations and their cultures. We have the responsibility to become a universal model, explains Rabbi Feinstein, because “God wants all nations to rise to their greatest spiritual potential.” (Art Scroll commentary and notes to Genesis 10:1)
When we inspire all nations to rise to their greatest spiritual potential through the power of our own example, we will merit the “complete” fulfillment of the following Divine promise concerning our rainbow nation: “Through it, all the nations of the earth will be blessed.” (Genesis 18:18)
Have a Chag Samayach – A Joyous Festival,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
A Related Teaching and Comment:
1. One of the ways in which we sanctify the seventy aspects of creation is through the seventy Torah sages on the Supreme Court of Israel (Numbers 11:16). According to the Midrash, these seventy sages correspond to the seventy nations of the world (Targum Yonasan to Genesis 28:3).
2. The Shem M-Shmuel by Rabbi Shmuel Bornstein consists of eight volumes of homiletical studies on the weekly Torah portion and on the Festivals. One volume is dedicated to explaining the Passover Haggadah. Targum Press published the following recommended English edition which contains excerpts from these studies, and the teaching that we cited is from this edition:
SHEM MISHMUEL – Selections on the weekly parashah and festivals, rendered into English by Rabbi Zvi Belovski, and published by Targum: www.targum.com . The book is also distributed by Feldheim: www.feldheim.com .