A People That Dwells Alone
Updated: Nov 25, 2020
Last Saturday night, I attended the funeral of Ezra Schwartz at Ben Gurion Airport. Ezra was spending this year in a yeshiva with a particular focus on gemilut chasadim – charitable acts. Tragically, Ezra was murdered when he and his friends were traveling to do volunteer work at Oz Vegaon, a nature reserve established in memory of the three teenagers who were kidnapped and killed by Hamas terrorists in the summer of 2014.
I am not surprised by the lack of world outrage in response to this heinous act of terrorism. Over time, we have learned not to expect a balanced response to savage murders against Jews. Unfortunately these brutal acts are continuing on a daily basis and yet most of the world conveniently looks away while parroting hollow phrases such as “moral equivalence” and “excessive use of force”.
In the book of Numbers (23:9), Balaam prophesies that the Jewish people are “a nation that will dwell in solitude and not be reckoned among the nations.” Many view these words as the formative statement defining the relationship between Israel and the nations of the world. The existence of anti-Semitism and Israel’s international isolation would indicate that our destiny is to stand apart from other nations. However, one can argue that the Jewish people are highly engaged in this world and have always been at the forefront of human development, as evidenced by the inordinate number of Jewish Nobel Prize winners and by the prominence of Jews in the political, scientific, business and cultural arenas. How can this paradox be resolved?
Decades ago, Dr. Yaakov Herzog, a preeminent diplomat and Talmudic scholar, brilliantly explained that the idea of a ‘people that dwells alone’ is the “natural concept of the Jewish people.” He states, “If one asks how the ingathering of the exiles, which no one could have imagined in his wildest dreams, came about, or how the State of Israel could endure such severe security challenges, or how it has built up such a flourishing economy, or how the unity of the Jewish people throughout the Diaspora has been preserved, one must come back to the primary idea that this is ‘a people that dwells alone’.” Accordingly, our ability to effect change in this world and be ‘a light unto the nations’ (Isaiah 42:6) remarkably depends upon our ability to separate ourselves from the nations of the world.
Perhaps one can also suggest that the dichotomy between the Jewish people being a “light unto the nations” versus being “a nation that will dwell in solitude” rests on answering the simple question: whose interests are being served? When the world is the beneficiary of our achievements, be it in the form of medical advances, progress in water technology or other technological breakthroughs, to name but a few, they are understandably only too happy to accept us, indeed embrace us, and reap the benefits of our achievements.
However, when the Jewish nation is imperiled and requires aid and support, then the love affair with us is often abruptly shut down. When we need assistance, our requests are often answered with eerie silence from most of the global community.
We cannot abandon our obligation to serve as a light upon the nations; this drive for excellence not only enhances the world, it also helps us become better people. However, we must remember that from time immemorial, the Almighty has separated us from the rest of the world and, at the end of the day, we can only rely upon Him and ourselves to protect our nation and our people.
Gedaliah Borvick is the founder of My Israel Home (www.myisraelhome.com), a real estate agency focused on helping people from abroad buy and sell homes in Israel. To sign up for his monthly market updates, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.