In this letter, I will review with you a universal Torah teaching which can help us to understand the universal role of the converts who join our people through accepting the path of the Torah. Before we review this teaching, we need to remember that the Hebrew term Adam can refer to the first man/woman, as well as to humankind. For example, the Torah states regarding the creation of the first human couple:
“He created them, male and female. He blessed them and called their name Adam on the day they were created” (Genesis 5:2).
The teaching that we are going to review is from the commentary of Ramban (Nachmanides), a leading sage, biblical commentator, and kabbalist of the 13th century. According to Ramban, the secret of human history can be found in the following statement of the Torah:
“This is the book of the descendants of Adam” (Genesis 5:1).
What “book” is this statement referring to? The Ramban explains:
“In my opinion, this alludes to the entire Torah, for the entire Torah is an account of the descendants of Adam.”
My main rebbe (Torah teacher and guide) is Rav Aharon Feldman, who is currently the head of Yeshiva Ner Yisrael in Baltimore, and who is a member of the Council of Torah Sages of Agudath Israel of America. A number of years ago, I asked Rav Feldman how he understands this explanation of Ramban, and he said:
“This means that the entire Torah – both written and oral – is the story of the reconstruction of humanity, from its fall in the Garden of Eden until its renewal in the messianic age.”
If the entire Torah is the story of the reconstruction of humanity, then why does the Torah focus on the story of the People of Israel? The beginning of an answer can be found in the following Divine statement to our people:
“You are Adam” (Ezekiel 34:31).
Hashem, the Compassionate and Life-Giving One, is revealing to us that the story of our people represents the story of the reconstruction of humanity, from its fall in the Garden of Eden until its renewal in the messianic age. In this spirit, it is written regarding Israel:
“But they, like Adam, have transgressed the Covenant” (Hosea 6:7).
The classical commentator, Rashi, offers the following explanation: Just as Adam was brought into the Garden of Eden and yet violated the Divine mandate, so too, the People of Israel were brought into the Land of Israel, and yet violated the Divine mandate. Rashi’s explanation is based on the Midrash which states: “Everything that happened to Adam happened to Israel” (Yalkut Shimoni on Eichah 1:1).
As we know, humanity evolved into diverse peoples, and the human story became the story of all these peoples. The story of our people’s exile and redemption therefore represents the story of the peoples of the earth, which is why all peoples can derive inspiration and hope from our story. I would like to suggest that having converts from all the peoples in our midst enhances our ability to serve as a universal model of the human story. This may be why the Divine promise regarding the future ingathering of the converts in the rebuilt Temple in Zion is followed by a Divine promise that the rebuilt Temple will be a house of prayer for all the peoples. These two related Divine promises appear in the following prophecy of Isaiah regarding the messianic age:
“The foreigners who join themselves to Hashem to serve Him and to love the Name of Hashem to become servants unto Him, all who guard the Sabbath against desecration, and grasp My Covenant tightly – I will bring them to My sacred mountain, and I will gladden them in My house of prayer; their elevation-offerings and their feast-offerings will find favor on My altar, for My House will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.” (Isaiah 56:3.6,7).
According to our classical commentators, the “foreigners who join themselves to Hashem” are converts. Regarding these converts, Hashem says, “I will bring them to My sacred mountain, and I will gladden them in My house of prayer.”
And Hashem adds:
“For My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.”
The Temple will not just be a house of prayer for our people and the converts who join us; it will be a house of prayer for all the peoples! (Commentaries of Rav Yosef Kara, Ibn Ezra, and Radak)
May we soon experience the age when there will be a joyous ingathering of the converts in Zion’s house of prayer, and when this sacred house will become a house of prayer for all the peoples.
Have a Good and Sweet Shabbos,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
1. As the commentators, Ibn Ezra and Radak, point out, the idea that the Holy Temple in Zion will attract pilgrims from other peoples is also found at an earlier stage of our history, when King Solomon offered the following prayer at the dedication of the Holy Temple:
“Moreover, concerning a Gentile who is not of Your people, Israel, but will come from a distant land, for Your Name’s sake – for they will hear of Your great Name and Your strong hand and Your outstretched arm, and will come and pray toward this Temple – may You hear from Heaven, the foundation of Your abode, and fulfill all that the Gentile asks of You; so that all the peoples of the earth may know Your Name, to revere You as does Your people Israel, and to know that Your Name is proclaimed upon this Temple that I have built.” (I Kings 8:41-43)
2. “The Juggler and the King” by Rav Aharon Feldman, is an elaboration of the Vilna Gaon’s interpretations of the hidden wisdom of our sages. The following is a summary of certain teachings from this book which discuss how the journey of the Jewish people through history is a journey that is paving the way for humanity to return to the Garden of Eden:
Twenty generations after the Expulsion from the Garden, Abraham took up the challenge of returning the human being to Eden, of living according to the values for which the human being was created. The Jewish people are the descendants of Abraham who were given the task to complete his mission, and their story is the account of how they moved humankind toward its ultimate goal.
Each era of Jewish history represents a test for the Jewish people in the abolition of another element of the evil which has become part of the human being’s nature. These tests have often been extremely difficult; at times, the Jewish people were successful and sometimes they failed. When they failed, the only solution has been for the Jews to be placed in a situation where they would be forced to make an even greater effort, so that they might finally succeed.
The cumulative effect of all these tests will move the world towards the elimination of evil from the human being’s mentality and his society. This will sufficiently weaken the power of evil in the world to enable humankind to recognize its Creator as Sovereign. And this will usher in the Era of the Messiah, the great return to the Garden of Eden.
“The Juggler and the King” is published by Feldheim: www.feldheim.com