What Does It Mean To Be A Light To The Nations?
The Biblical Prophet Isaiah, who lived almost 3,000 years ago, wrote about a time, far in the future, when all nations would come to recognize the distinct role of the Jewish people.
I will appoint you as a light to the nations so that My salvation will reach the ends of the earth. (Isaiah 49:6)
What was God telling Isaiah, and, by extension, the entirety of the Jewish people, when He appointed us to be a Light to the Nations?
Jewish Values Online recently received a related question. The questioner asked if, in the spirit of being a Light to the Nations, it was permitted to host a festive party for non-Jews at Christmas time. At the party, the questioner suggested that words of Torah would be shared, thus sanctifying the day.
As the editor of Ten From The Nations: Torah Awakening Among Non-Jews, I spend many hours each week in conversation with, and teaching Torah to, people from the Nations. It seems to me that, while the questioner is well-meaning, taking a Christian holiday and frosting it with some Jewish teachings is exactly the wrong approach.
Ironically, it’s strikingly similar to the approach many Messianic congregations have adopted - taking a Christian belief and wrapping it in a veneer of Jewish symbolism.
It’s a mind-blowing paradigm shift for many Jews to understand that the Torah is the Torah for the whole world. The Jewish people were tasked with the job of bringing the Torah, and its message of ethical monotheism, to the rest of the world. That’s what it means to be The Chosen People.
We were not chosen from a place of superiority. We were chosen for a task. The Jewish people are God’s instrument to bring the rest of the world closer to Him. That’s our job. That’s what we were chosen for.
To do that, I believe, we must keep separate, not from non-Jews, but from other religious practices. In order to be a faithful transmitter of Torah wisdom, I must stay grounded in Torah, not make parties on other people’s holidays in order to inject a bit of Torah into them.
Doing so is like mixing apples and oranges or, as they say in other parts of the world, like chalk and cheese.
The fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy does not mean that the entire world becomes Jewish, by the way. To be a Light to the Nations means that we are doing our job helping the rest of the world recognize that the universe has one God, one Creator, one Divine Ruler.
I absolutely believe that the time has come for the Jewish people to stop reacting to the rest of the world from fear. We are secure in our own Land and are attracting millions of Israel and Torah-loving supporters from all over the world every day. It’s time to step into our God-given role, the one God first gave to the Prophet Isaiah over 3,000 years ago, with confidence.
For millennia, it was not safe to assert that the Torah has much to say to the rest of the world. Today, it is not only safe. It is imperative.
Have something to add? We'd love to hear from you. Please comment below to share.
What is the concept of "ohr lagoyim/le'ohr goyim" [a light to the nations], and how much should it be emphasized as an ultimate purpose of the Jewish nation/people, and/or the Jewish state of Israel? See answers from Orthodox, Conservative and Reform rabbis here.
If you have a question about Jewish values that you would like to ask rabbis from multiple denominations, click here to enter your question. We will ask rabbis on our panel for answers and post them. You can also search our repository of over 700 questions and answers about Jewish values.
For more great Jewish content, please subscribe in the right-hand column. Once you confirm your subscription, you'll get an email whenever new content is published to the Jewish Values Online blog.