What’s in a Nation? by Dan Atwood


At the beginning of Parshat VaEira, Hashem reassures Moshe that he will take Bnei Yisrael out of Mitzrayim and make them a nation.  The Pasuk states, “VeLakachti Etchem Li LeAm,” “And I shall take you to Me for a nation” (Shemot 6:7).  It is very interesting that Hashem used the word Am, nation.  Judaism is usually referred to as a religion!  The word for religion is Dat, not Am!

Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch shares a very important idea based on this Pasuk.  These words which express the destiny of Bnei Yisrael tell us something very unique about the Jewish people.  Nowadays, many make reference to us as “the Jewish Religion,” but, in fact, they are mistaken.  We are not simply a religion, but a nation.  That’s why Hashem uses Am. Judaism is much broader than and different from other religions.  In other religions, there are priests, temples, churches, and congregations.  People have relationships only with the priests and leaders, and the religious institution is formed like a government.  Regarding Judaism, though, Hashem didn’t make a church, but rather a nation, whose purpose is to serve Him.  When Hashem said, “I shall take you to Me for a nation,” He meant that our social lives will be conducted at His discretion and with His judgment.  This idea is supported by a verse in Sefer Yirmiyahu (7:22-23) which states, “On that day that I took your forefathers out of Mitzrayim, I spoke to them not of Olah and Zevach… but rather to be a God for them and for them to be a nation for Me.”  In reality, Hashem did tell Bnei Yisrael about Korbanot, so what does this Pasuk mean?  It means that we did not become a nation in order to bring Korbanot.  Instead, we were to become a nation through the Korbanot and Avodat Hashem.  In fact, Seforno writes that we became a nation at Har Sinai when we received the Torah, which included the laws of Korbanot.  Rav Hirsch adds one final point.  Whereas other nations find unity through their country or location, we are unified through our God (see, however, Horiyot 3a, which states that Jews are a community only in Eretz Yisrael).

We should always remember that, as Jews, we are an Am Kadosh, a holy nation.  Hopefully, we will soon be Zoche to once again bring Korbanot so that we can be reunified as the nation whose purpose it is to serve Hashem.

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