Rabbi Oury Cherki
Beha'alotchah (Haftarah) - Testimony for all of Humanity
Translated from Hebrew. Published at the Noahide World Center website and in Shabbat B'Shabbato.
This week’s Haftarah begins with the return of the Shechina – the holy Presence – to Zion and with the significance of this process for mankind: "Sing and be happy, daughter of Zion, for I am coming, and I will dwell within you – this is what G-d says. And many nations will join together with G-d on that day." [Zechariah 2:14-15]. The end of the Haftarah describes the Shechina as an image of a Menorah, similar to the one in the Temple. The proximity of the two images is taken by the sages as proof that the Menorah will serve as testimony for all of humanity that the Shechina dwells within the Children of Israel.
It is true that the Menorah is placed outside of the Holy of Holies, such that at first glance it would seem that it is at a lower level of sanctity than the Ark of the Covenant, where the Torah is kept. This corresponds to the notion that the nation of Israel, including the appearance of the Shechina within it, is of minor importance when compared to the Torah. However, Rav Kook explains that this is only true from an external point of view, but that from an internal viewpoint – since the Torah was given for the sake of Israel and Israel preceded the Torah – the Menorah is indeed holier than the Ark. "The Menorah encompasses the sanctity of the soul of Yisrael on its own, which at first glance might seem external as compared to the holiness of the Torah in the Holy of Holies. However, the truth is that the Menorah spreads its light for everybody. And this is the secret of the testimony given by Israel, but it can also light up the outside." [Shemona Kevatzim 8:157].
We can thus conclude that the sanctity of the nation is of necessity of a universal nature. Superficially, we might think that it is possible to separate between the self-holiness of the nation and its universal outreach, and that influencing the other nations is nothing more than a relatively low level which stems from the sanctity of Israel. But this is not true. The fact that Yisrael keeps itself separate is meant to serve the goal of having "all the nations of the earth blessed through you" [Genesis 12:3]. But since "a prisoner cannot free himself from prison" [Berachot 5b], it is necessary for one who wants to redeem his friend to remain separate from him. And that is the reason why the Children of Israel remain separate from the other nations.
Israel also appears in the Haftarah as one who should be emulated by the other nations. We are the first nation in all of history that reached a status of "a nation of G-d," and all the other nations should learn from us, just like all the other brothers learn from the firstborn. "And many nations will join together with G-d on that day, and they will be a nation for me." In all of history, only the nation of Israel was privileged to have collective sanctity, which encompassed the aspects of both nationality and politics. The other nations only had examples of holy individuals, on the level of morals and religion, but in the future they will also have the merits of collective sanctity. And that is why we will not accept converts in the days of the Messiah (Yevamot 24b), because it will no longer be necessary for a person to break away from his or her nation in order to achieve collective sanctity.
It is specifically the success of the universal mission which lifts Israel up to higher levels, as the priests of all the other nations. "And I will dwell within you... And G-d will take Yehuda as His portion on the holy land, and He will choose Jerusalem again" [Zechariah 2:14,16].