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Shabbat Parashat Vaetchanan 5772

Ein Ayah: Whether to Be Concerned With the Religious State of the Nations

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Berachot 9:114)

Gemara:  One who sees a place from which idol worship was uprooted should say: “Blessed … Who uprooted idol worship from our Land, and just as He uprooted it from this place, so shall He uproot it from all places of Israel and return the hearts of those (Rashi- Jews) who worship them to worship You.” Outside Israel, there is no need to say “return the hearts of those who worship them to worship You” because most of them are gentiles. Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar says: Even outside Israel one should say it, for in the future they will convert, as the pasuk says: “For then I will change the nations to a clear language to call out in the name of Hashem” (Tzefanya 3:9).


Ein Ayah: Prayer should always be connected to the attempt to bring good deeds into practice. This is all the more so in regard to spiritual matters of the highest and most sacred degree. Therefore, the attempt to return the hearts of Jewish sinners to their Father in Heaven should be included in the personal moral agenda of every individual Jew. Therefore, it is proper that our prayers mark the desire within every Jew to see all the sinners within our nation return to belief in the G-d of Israel.

The matter is different in regard to our concern for the sins of members of the nations of the world. It is true that our ultimate goal is that all human beings will recognize the honor of Hashem.  However, in practice we have no obligation to involve ourselves in their religious affairs. Our obligation is to strengthen the Torah and fear of Hashem within our own nation. It is Hashem’s secret how He will improve the world’s connection with Him and bring light to the world when the darkness comes to an end. Therefore the hope for universal service of Hashem has no place in our set prayers upon seeing a place from which idolatry has been uprooted.

It is true that we discuss our desire for universal service of Hashem within the Aleinu prayer and during the services of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. However, this is only at specific intervals, so that we recall what our general hope includes. In contrast, blessings that are required when certain circumstances arise are not just related to the religious goals of the future but to the practical ones of the present. Praying for gentiles’ removal of idolatry whenever one sees the removal of idol worship might mislead one to think that we are obligated in this as well. Therefore, the first opinion says to omit this element from the blessing.

Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar agrees that we do not have a practical obligation to influence gentiles. However, it is clear that the faster our salvation comes and our prominence in the eyes of the world increases, the faster the nations will recognize Hashem, as we will be the vehicle for this process. When we remind ourselves that the “conversion” of the nations of the world depends on our maximizing our potential, this will encourage us to redouble our efforts towards this end. By conversion we refer merely to the acceptance of the Kingdom of Hashem as finds expression through us, enabling the world to ‘speak in one language,’ as the prophet, Tzefanya, foretold. The nations’ spiritual unity, which is very important for their physical and spiritual success, depends on their ability to absorb the light of the Torah of Israel. If the nations would be able, in the future, to come to recognize Hashem through their own intellectual powers, they would not be able to join together ‘in one language,’ but this is not the case. The second opinion reasons that because our light will be needed for the whole world, we should include this fact in our ongoing prayers to improve ourselves so that we can improve the whole world through our internal state.      

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