Rabbi Sacks addressing the 2013 AIPAC Policy Conference. (Photo: The Rabbi Sacks Legacy Trust)

Our Light unto the Nations


In Parashat Ki Tavo, we are commanded וְהָלַכְתָּ בִּדְרָכָיו, “And you should go in His ways” (Devarim 28:9). What does this mean? How and why should we go in the ways of Hashem?

Hashem created humanity בְּצֶלֶם אֱלוֹקִים – “in the image of G-d” (Bereishit 1:27) and He wants us to preserve that צֶלֶם, even here in this complicated, physical world. So He commanded us to “go in His ways,” for by following His example, we will preserve our G-dliness. But to truly understand the ways of Hashem and how to follow them, we must study the Tanach and learn the Gemara.

The verse continues וְרָאוּ כָּל עַמֵּי הָאָרֶץ – “And all the peoples of the earth shall see that Hashem’s name is proclaimed over you” (Devarim 28:10). The other nations will see that Bnei Yisrael have succeeded in preserving the צֶלֶם אֱלוֹקִים.

The Navi Yishayahu says that we are an Or LaGoyim – “A light unto the nations” (Yishayahu 49:6). But our role as a “light unto the nations” was not discovered by Yishayahu, for all the teachings brought forth by the prophets must be rooted in the Torah. The original source for our people’s role as “light unto the nations” comes from the verse וְרָאוּ כָּל עַמֵּי הָאָרֶץ.

What does it mean to be a “light unto the nations”? When all the nations of the world will see that we have succeeded in preserving our צֶלֶם אֱלוֹקִים, they will learn from our people how to live with yirat shamayim – with fear of Heaven.

Rav Soloveitchik explains that being an Or LaGoyim does not result from our keeping the mitzvot of Shabbat, kashrut and taharat hamishpacha (family purity), but rather by preserving our צֶלֶם אֱלוֹקִים following the ways of Hashem with honesty, integrity and work ethic.

This is one of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks’ extraordinary accomplishments. For so many years, the Jewish people did not function as an Or LaGoyim. But Rabbi Sacks published and spoke so much in public about the meaning of צֶלֶם אֱלוֹקִים, and how to live with midot tovot and derech eretz. Rabbi Sacks represented the Jewish people to the nations of the world, and through his teachings and the way he lived his life, taught humanity the meaning of צֶלֶם אֱלוֹקִים.


Rabbi Hershel Schachter is Rosh Yeshiva and Rosh Kollel at Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary of Yeshiva University.

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