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A Holy People
This week on Wednesday and Thursday (June 4-5) we will celebrate the holiday of Shavuot, when the Torah was given and we earned our identity as the Jewish people. Our ancestors stood at the foot of Mount Sinai 3326 years ago to affirm our acceptance of the Divine precepts, and became transformed into a “kingdom of priests, a holy nation.”

On Shavuot we also read the story of Naomi and her daughter-in-law Ruth the Moabite princess, who married a Jewish man and elected to follow her mother-in-law back to Israel after her husband’s death. She uttered the memorable words, “Where you go, I go; your people are my people, and your G-d is my G-d.” Ruth later married the prophet Boaz, and from this marriage, King David descended. This is in contrast to Naomi’s other daughter-in-law, Orpah, who chose to remain in Moab and became the ancestor of Goliath, David’s formidable foe.

There is no requirement for a non-Jew to convert to Judaism. Unlike other religions, Judaism makes no attempt to proselytize to gentiles, and as a matter of fact, non-Jews are strongly discouraged from converting. Only if a non-Jew is exceedingly persistent and demonstrates readiness to accept the precepts of the Torah is the conversion accepted.

The Talmud describes the convert as “a convert who converts,” rather than “a non-Jew who converts.” From this the commentaries learn that a convert is born with the potential to be Jewish, and is just waiting for the opportunity for this potential to be actualized. Pirkei d’Rebi Eliezer states that the souls of the converts were also present at the giving of the Torah.

There is a statement in the Talmud (Pesachim): “G-d exiled the Jews among the nations in order to add converts.” If Judaism has a principle of not encouraging conversion, how are we to understand this statement? One explanation is that the word “converts” refers to the sparks of holiness scattered throughout the world. By exiling the Jewish people from place to place, they are given the opportunity to collect and elevate these sparks through fulfillment of Torah and mitzvot.

The converts to Judaism are born with special souls that already have these sparks of holiness of them, and thus, when they convert, they are able to transform their surroundings to holiness. The power to accomplish this “conversion” was given to us at Mount Sinai.

The Midrash (Shmot Rabbah) relates that before the Torah was given, there was a rule: That which was above could not descend below, and that which was below could not ascend above.

When G-d gave the Torah to the Jewish people, He nullified this rule. He started the process by coming down Himself onto Mount Sinai to give the Torah to the Jewish people. We continue the process by fulfilling the mitzvot, by using our physical property for a sacred purpose. For example, when we write a mezuzah on parchment, we elevate the ink and animal skin to holiness. Eating a meal becomes a sacred act when we prepare the food according to kosher laws, bless and thank G-d before and after eating, and are mindful to use the energy from this meal to serve G-d. Through each of these steps we elevate the physical object and make it holy to G-d.

The culmination of this process will be in the era of Moshiach, when the entire world will be filled with the glory of G-d. All the energy we have invested over the centuries of exile into transforming the world will finally pay off. We will be able to clearly see the fruits of our labor, and the entire world will rejoice as one.
 

 


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