By Ari Hart
This week's parasha contains a verse that, I believe, encapsulates the mission of the Jewish people. Here's how:
ועתה אם שמוע תשמעו בקלי ושמרתם את בריתי והייתם לי סגלה מכל העמים כי לי כל הארץ
And now, if you hear my voice and keep my covenant, you will be for me a treasure from among the nations, for all the world belongs to me. Exodus, 19:5
Our purpose on this earth as Jews is happening in this very moment. It's not sealed in history, and it's not waiting for us in a next world. It demands action now.
If you hear my voice
Implicit in this sentence is that God's voice speaking to us always. We must seek to tune into God's voice speaking through Torah, halacha, and through the cries of the poor, the oppressed, the orphan and the widow. We must be open to those sounds and God's ethical demands implicit in them.
And keep my covenant
We have several covenants with God, covenants about land, law, justice, how we treat others, and how we treat ourselves. Fundamental to our relationship to God though is what is expressed to Abraham - ושמרו דרך ה' לעשות צדקה ומשפט – God chooses Abraham because his seed will follow the ways of God, to do righteousness and justice. This covenant is primary. These covenants are what give us the power to make change in the world, to transform the world from the world as it is to the world as it should be.
And you will be for me a treasure among all the nations
As individuals, but also as a people, Jews have a relationship with the creator of the world. God loves us. But God's love is so big, bigger than we can understand. And we certainly don't have a monopoly on that love, nor do we always, or maybe ever, deserve it. The fact that we are a treasure doesn't mean we're better or worse than anyone else. But we are unique, and that's alright. The Jewish people have played a special role in and out of history. We've born witness to the horrible power of evil and persecution, and we've been at the forefront of many efforts to end it. Those are some of the things that make us a treasure. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks says it well:
"If God is the reality of the personal, then God loves the way a person loves, each one separately, for their differences, not their sameness. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, A letter in the scroll, pp 92-93"
God's love, and our treasured status, is not a right, nor is it end. It is a beginning and a responsibility. It is a call to strive higher and sanctify God's name through acts of chessed, tzedek and mishpat in the world.
For all the world belongs to me
This might be the most important part. What we think is ours in this world: the land, resources, possessions, egos, problems, dramas, states, are not really ours. They belong to the ever-sustaining, ever generating, ineffable wellspring of life and possibility we like to call God. ּBy that force's grace, we allowed a sliver of time to partner with it, sanctify its world, and work to make more peace and justice for the rest of its creations. Shabbat Shalom.